The Five Stages of Understanding Student Evaluations

For many of us, the tail end of our first year includes evaluations of our performance. We often get it from our supervisors and in some cases also from our students. In my office, an anonymous survey is administered via email, sent to our director, and then the results are forwarded to us. The process of truly understanding these results has, for me, mirrored grieving. Stay with me- I’ll explain how. And who knows? Maybe you’ve felt the same way as you peruse your students’ thoughts on you. 

Stage One: Denial 

 You go over the evaluation results, in some cases really pleased by the positive things you see, in some cases dismayed by what a student thinks of your performance. Suddenly, one comment sticks out. Something that cuts you to the quick, hurts a little more than the rest of what you’re seeing. Your first instinct, even for the most self-aware of us? “That’s not true! How could he/she think that? Surely I don’t come off that way…” 

Stage Two: Anger

As you try to process where this comment could have come from, you start to get angry. “How could this student possibly understand what I do? Clearly he/she is upset because he/she doesn’t like me- I’ve given this job everything I have, of course I’m getting everything done!” or assorted other justifications that put the student at fault, rather than you. It’s a natural reaction, designed to protect our understanding of our accomplishments, as well as to justify our station in life. As new professionals , we’re new and still learning the ropes. As such, we’re vulnerable when someone tells us we haven’t done what we’ve set out to do. At this point, the mind springs to action. 

Stage Three: Bargaining

I have read emails and texts from my students well enough to know their “voices” when they write. Immediately, I thought “if I can figure out who wrote this, I can ask them what they meant by it and how I can be better!” Resist the urge! I say this for two reasons. First, if you guess correctly, they may be reluctant to tell you. The responses they’ve given have come with an understanding of anonymity. If he/she is approached about what has been said, trust in the process is likely to be lost. Answers will be sanitized to protect detection, and the results will be far less helpful. But more importantly, you don’t need to. We are in an introspective field. Upon further reflection, you may be able to better understand what you’ve read. But we’re not quite there yet. 

Stage Four: Depression (In This Case, “A Crisis of Confidence” May be More Appropriate)

The fourth stage of grief is “depression”, featuring a deep emotional toll from the news one has received. Here, depression may be a strong word- let us instead call it a “crisis of confidence” in one’s ability to be successful. In what is hopefully the shortest stage, you will do what many of us do when we get negative feedback. You will wallow, you will whimper, you will doubt yourself. “Maybe he/she is right. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. How did I even decide to do this work?” Do not despair! This is where the words to “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music may need to come to mind. You have been hired to your position because you’re qualified. We all make missteps, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing this work. If that truly were the case, hopefully your supervisor would have already made you aware of a larger problem! So be gratified by the good work you have done, and don’t let your negative feedback define you. 

Stage Five: Acceptance

By this point, you may be starting to see the student’s point. You are far enough away from the evaluation to see the comment for what it (likely) is: a legitimate critique of what is likely otherwise good work. Let this time be constructive: is there a solution to the problem voiced? Set a plan to work toward it! Receipt of feedback is a time for renewal, use it as such and start making your next year great! 

Do you receive feedback from students as part of your evaluation process? How do you process the information you get from evaluations? 

Ammar Marfo
@ammamarfo

Student Affairs - the First Years

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