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February 28, 2006



The funny thing is, you read these complaints in that blog about students who are bored, half-asleep and not paying attention. But I've had experiences in a few classes where I did occasionally try to speak up and participate where the professor clearly would rather I didn't. They're usually the types who rely heavily on powerpoint and seem like they'd rather be anywhere else.

I had one experience where my attempts to be an active student were met with outright hostility actually. A multicultural english instructor (a phD student, granted, not an actual professor) took me aside after one class and in so many words did tell me to shut up. So I did. And guess what happened the next day when I sat there like a log? Nothing much different. It didn't inspire any of the other students to speak up by shutting me up (her hypothesis was that I was "intimidating" them somehow). There were about three of us (students, that is) in that class who ever actually said anything on a regular basis, and she pretty much hated all three of us, because apparently we weren't saying the things she wanted us to.

Suffice it to say, the whole experience left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. She also docked my final grade a whole letter. After the end of the semester, I confronted her about it (unfortunately over e-mail because I was no longer in town and not inclined to drive three hours) after the semester and she pretty much told me off again. I don't know where she'll end up after getting her phD, but hopefully it won't involve teaching undergrads.

So what I'm saying basically is that a lot of how students react directly mirrors the instructor's own attitude. It's the prof at the front of the class who sets the tone, and if it's one of you-don't-know-jack-squat-so-STFU-and-listen, then students aren't really going to respond well. Also, if the prof seems dead bored with the material, the students probably won't take much interest either. After all, if prof up there doesn't think it's important, why should I? A lot of students ARE indeed lazy and apathetic (and even stupid in a few cases), but there are a few of those dull faces out there that might lighten up a bit if the prof didn't look like he'd rather be anywhere else but the classroom too.

Of course, I've had good profs too, the ones who clearly like the material they're teaching, who actively engage students and encourage them to participate and even get the folks who sit at the back of the room with their cell phones into the class by the end of the first week. I've seen it happen, it is completely within the realm of possibility.

Frankly, I think a lot of the problems start in the university's admissions office - large auditorium-style classrooms filled with 100, 200 or even more students aren't really conducive active participation. They just let too damn many people in every year. They can't even house them all here at UGA but every year the freshman class is larger than the previous. It all comes down to money, as usual. So what if the facilities to deal with them all don't exist? So what if there aren't enough instructors to teach them? Who cares as long as we can take their money, right? Bah.

The biggest enemy of both the college student and the college professor is the college administration.


The RateYourProfessor.com entries were hilarious. You must be quite the teacher. Somehow this doesn't suprise me after reading many of your insightful posts.

Like Indiana Jones (Dr. Jones!) eh?


Uzzah, I haven't seen the Raiders movies in years.  All I remember is that he was really afraid of snakes, which I am... other than that, I'm not clear on how I'm like Indiana Jones. I don't wear those hats he wore... but he was a history or a classics teacher, as I recall.

Breadfish, good points (and Go Dawgs!)  You write: what I'm saying basically is that a lot of how students react directly mirrors the instructor's own attitude; I couldn't agree more.  Ultimately, I am the older adult with the responsibility to create a certain kind of classroom environment.  Some, however, make it easier than others to do so!


breadfish, I might try to very politely encourage very vocal students to speak up a little less (or wait a bit longer before speaking), but only when the two circumstances are the case:

It's a very small class (no more than 25).
It's one of my pedagogical goals for the course to get everyone to talk.

Otherwise, I love the talkers. The four people who regularly pipe up in my class of 70 are godsends.


Yeah, most of my teachers come to rely on me to push the discussion, I think. Like, if they go "Does anyone have anything they want to say?" they'll look straight at me and wait. Or, they'll just say, "what do you think, Antigone?" But, that may be that I'm one of the rare liberal voices, and even rarer female voices and they're looking for "diversity" or some such.

I find it funny how many students say you're hot. It must be a real-life thing. Not that you're not attractive, Hugo, but because you just don't seem...I dunno, Harrison Ford hot and because my professors normally end up pretty sexless.


djw - the thing about it was, even when I was silent, nobody else was talking. There were three people in that class (out of, I think, about 35 or so) who said anything on a regular basis.

If the three of us "talkers" sat silently, so did the rest of the class pretty much. She could call on people and they'd just sort of make some quick no-meaning comment or shrug. After she basically told me to shut it, I did start waiting a bit when she tried to start the discussion, but it didn't change anything, and quite frankly I wasn't just going to spend an hour sitting there staring at the wall. If that's all class was going to be, there were plenty of other things I could have been doing.


I think the Indiana Jones comment was referring to the fact that at the beginning of Raiders dozens of female students were swarming his office hours.

Mmmm. The thing that bothers me about ratemyprofessors is its similarity to stuff like consumer reports. The commodification of the teacher/student interaction gives me the willies for some reason.

I've also noticed that undergrads have REALLY different criteria for a good teacher than I do. Some that I found terribly boring were rated well by undergrads because they were "easy" and didn't give a lot of homework. Some that I found much more interested (and hence interesting) rated low because they were "difficult". Hmm... maybe I'll go see what they have to say about my advisor.


Antigone, I don't aspire to "Harrison Ford hot." I aspire to "Guy Pearce hot." (Just kidding -- he's always the celebrity I'm told I resemble.)

DJW and Breadfish, here's my trick for forcing discussion. I'll ask a question and say, "Okay, I need to hear from five people on this." When students know that I have a specific expectation, they almost magically respond... it really works, oddly.

Metamanda, I'll confess I've looked up most of my colleagues on RMP. I've sat in a few of their classes as a peer evaluator, but many of them I've never had the chance to watch "in action"; as a result, I'm fascinated by what is said about them. On the other hand, some of it seems so wildly off that I'm convinced that it's pretty worthless. But it is fascinating.


Hugo, I took your 25B class last spring and have been a reader of your blog ever since.

Since I am no longer your student or at PCC, I can be honest about you: You drove me crazy,and in some ways you still do. No, unlike some girls, I do not have the hots for you.

Yes, you are a very good lecturer. (Antigone, I don't know if Hugo is all that handsome, though he's quite fit and reasonably attractive for his age. What sets him apart is hhis charisma. To me it is not so much he is handsome it is that he uses his sexuality very effectively.) Hugo, you have a power over people and you know it. You pretend to be ignorant of it.

What drove me crazy, and still does, about you and your blog is that you're so hard to pin down. You drop all kinds of hints about how amazing your wife is, but don't have a pic up. (I have friends who've seen her with you, and she is a younger model.) You openly admit having been married four times, but don't explain how that effects your feminism. It makes me wonder how you really treat women in person, not just in the classroom where you are gracious and charming and, well, really really slick. It seems so fake to me.

ANd you name drop so much on the blog. I watch you carefully. You mention Richard Mouw, Shelby Coffey, Jon Bruno, Ed Bacon, all kinds of well-known people who you are supposedly so close to. (Is everyone your "good friend"? It soudns insincere and Clintonian when you say it. You say it alot.) Did you date their daughters, or what? You are subtle about it but I see a pattern. You boast about how well-connected you are.

You will probably delete this. You can write me at the email on here, not that you've written me back before. Yes, you're a great teacher, but underneath it all, don't you know, I think you're a fraud.


I'm going to try that next term if necesssary.


Ouch, that's cold. I've often disagreed with Hugo, but I've never doubted his commitment to feminists.


I didn't understand the Indiana Jones references either. (Yes, I have too much free time on my hands)

Hugo's other Photos


Okay, Uzzah, that's funny!

Col Steve

I just don't tie my sense of competence and professionalism to their individual performance, or their judgments about me.....I've learned not to attach too much importance to what is said there -- or in the more closely monitored in-class evaluations.

I can understand the silly RMP or similar site comments...I'm surprised you continue to have the site as "worth a visit" on your blog, especially given your statement "I just don't tie my sense of competence and professionalism to their individual performance, or their judgments about me." I suspect (maybe I'm wrong since I haven't checked out the site thoroughly) many comments focus on the appearance and physical characteristics of people. I'm confused how you would think such a site is worth a visit given your own stated goal for pro-feminism to have people enhance "their ability to effectively relate as loving equals." I'm all for entertaining distractions, but I'm curious what you find "worthwhile" about RMP.

I'm also curious why the dismissive attitude toward "closely monitored in-class evaluations." While I agree student evaluations can be problematic - depending on design and implementation - student evaluations can provide useful insights, especially trends. One can perhaps choose to dismiss the comments, hopefully after some analysis why the evaluations are not relevant. However, the tone of your sentence gives the impression of arrogance, or possibly the position of someone with tenure? (Read Professor Goodgrade By Louise Churchill in Chronicle of Higher Education Career Section, 24 Feb 06) Or perhaps your definition of "not too much importance" is not as close to "no importance" as I'm inferring.

Your description of RYS focuses on one aspect (although you do add the useful suggestions phrase). The site also claims to be "a public forum where faculty and students can work out the tricky dynamic of the modern classroom." That aspect has potentially some "other than entertainment" value.

I would agree some use the site to "vent." I can only wish that if professors have time to complain about students on such a site then they also have time to at least provide more thoughtfully crafted counseling to the objects of their derision as well.


Well, to be fair, Col Steve, I also link to PETA -- a site that I find useful and interesting, but I don't endorse all of PETAs tactics or positions. Worth a visit is not exactly a ringing endorsement!

My experience with in-class evaluations has been mixed; many students simply don't seem to take much time to fill them out. At PCC, 74% of our faculty are rated excellent/outstanding by their students. Grade inflation may work both ways!

Col Steve

Hugo - perhaps your student evaluations are not as indepth as the ones at the institutions I've taught/teach at - where the evaluation covered various aspects such as the readings, effectiveness of presentation media, and various other classroom and overall learning factors beyond just the professor. Evaluations were also mandatory (but anonymous to the professors) and the administration(s) reinforced to the students the use and value of student comments. I would agree that design and implementation problems, to include student indifference, limit their effectiveness.

I find your reason by analogy with PETA and RMP intellectually superficial and ducks the question of "what is worthwhile at all about the site", but your blog, your rules.


The evaluations are very superficial, Col. Steve. There is room for comments -- but though mine were generally outstanding, perhaps 5-10% of students bothered to write comments in my untenured days.

Look, I think RMP is "worth a look" because it is entertaining and interesting; what it isn't is reliable information about teaching quality. The fact that it isn't the latter doesn't prevent it from being the former.


I had one of my profs last year give this huge spiel before giving the class the evaluation forms on how unfairly they're used against professors to determine all sorts of things like funding, tenure etc and probably whether or not they get drawn and quartered at the end of the year. I think he was trying to guilt us into giving him good ratings or something, I'm not entirely sure. It was kind of funny, actually.

I usually try to write something in the space on the back, but frankly for some teachers there's just nothing much to write. If I can't think of something that's actually CONSTRUCTIVE to say I'll end up leaving it blank. I think one problem is that students are usually given about 10 - 15 minutes at the end of class on the next to last day to fill the whole thing out and turn it. It's hard to say something meaningful in that space of time. I can completely understand not wanting to cut into class time, but that's just how it is.


My school switched to online student evaluations: we were let out of class early one day, but didn't have to do it then if we didn't feel up to it. They had to be finished by the end of finals or our final grades weren't released (automatically, we had to log in with our IDs). It gave me, at least, a lot more time to think through what kind of feedback I wanted to leave the class with.

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