Are professors demoralized by student evaluations?

Two years ago, the editor of Harvard University’s educational publishing blog “Inspiring Minds” asked me to write an article for university professors on student evaluations. It turned out to be one of their hottest stories, and they have republished a shorter version in their email newsletter Faculty Lounge twice — the latest this week (Tuesday March 15, 2024).

My bottom line: don’t let negative student remarks “de-rail” your teaching by making you less confident, friendly, or open to innovation.

The most common student complaints are that the professor:
1) didn’t stick to the syllabus
2) didn’t provide enough structure
3) was too harsh with their feedback
4) was unapproachable

As someone who has taught (and gotten her share of disheartening student comments), and reviewed my colleagues’ student evaluations as a department chair and Dean, I can say confidently that even great professors get negative comments– and further, that if they don’t ruffle any feather, it’s cause for concern. Professors who push students to grow and re-examine their beliefs and habits are doing their job, but students may not like it – at least immediately. We’ve all had those who come back to reunions years later to tell us that their most dreaded class or professor is now the one they valued the most.

What are your thoughts on student evals?