Let me take you on a journey to 2003. I had just completed my second semester, and I had fallen in love with journalism. Ileana Oroza, my CNJ 111 professor, seemed to be everything I needed: She was understanding, knowledgeable (she had been an editor at the Miami Herald), and straightforward (as editors generally are). Naturally, as I signed up for classes for Fall 2003, I jumped at the chance to take Oroza again for CNJ 216.
Enter Mirta Ojito. She was a New York Times reporter with Miami roots on sabbatical from the paper and working on a book. She ended up teaching my class instead.
Ojito was no Oroza. After turning in an assignment one class late, Ojito told me, “In journalism, you get fired for this. Why shouldn’t I fail you?” I responded, “I don’t care what grade I get, as long as you teach me what I need to learn.” She gave me a C. She taught me not to take a class with a professor I don’t know.
But this is difficult to avoid. Most students log on to the EASY system and look up faculty evaluations. They get percentages based on selected classes regarding whether students agree, disagree or are neutral to such questions as “I would recommend this instructor to a friend.” Interestingly, students provide more than just that when they evaluate faculty. There are levels of agreement to these questions that are omitted, and there are open-ended responses, which presumably are used to line Sebastian the Ibis’ birdcage, since we never see them again, and they do little to alter a professor’s methods.
This is insufficient. Asking a student to pick a class based on six or seven “yes/no/maybe” questions is like asking a teacher to grade a student based on six or seven true/false questions. It just doesn’t tell enough. Therefore, I present to you Ben Minkus’ EASY suggestions:
1) Syllabus previews: Let us know what is expected, and when
2) Excerpts from student evaluations: From profanity-laced tirades to encouraging boasts of a teacher’s methods; and, for the sake of objectivity…
3) Professor responses to evaluations
4) Box-and-whiskers plot of the final grades in the class-Is there a grade curve?
5) Show all five levels of agreement!
6) Class style: Lecture? Interactive? Group assignments? Writing? Combination?
7) Does the professor speak English well? Do they refer to the text, notes or both?
8) If a professor is new, what are his or her credentials, both professionally and educationally?
I know that any professors reading this might gasp at these suggestions for being invasive and exhaustive, but don’t they owe it to us to be honest and forthright with their style?
Or is that just the students’ responsibility?
Ben Minkus can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.