FemaleScienceProfessor has a thoughtful course-evaluations-time post about student evaluations of professors who are teaching their first course. It’s worth a read, most especially because it presents the question, “What can be done to prepare new professors to teach?” The comment section offers further insight into the issue. This is a topic about which I have some great concern as a graduate student who ultimately hopes to go into teaching (as well as research), but on which I shall not comment much at this moment. Instead I just have some general observations:

As an undergrad I had some absolutely excellent professors and some fairly dismal ones as well. What seemed to distinguish the good from the bad was a combination of method and attitude. Interestingly, I think that professors and students expect the same things from each other:

1) Attention

2)Honsty

3)Organization

4)Neatness and Clarity

5)Passion

6)Effort

7)Flexibility

8)Creativity

9)Respect

The list is not in any order, other than that respect is obviously the most important attribute for both students and professors. The moment one party loses respect for the other, it is inevitable that the other loses respect  and that mutual respect  be extremely difficult to restore. The key question for either is to ask: “What if I were a student/the professor?”

One commenter for FSP’s post noted that he used mid-course evaluations for the courses he taught. I had a physics professor in my second year of undergrad who did this and  happened to be an excellent professor for a number of other reasons.  I never had another course in which a mid-course evaluation took place, but the impact of that incident remains. As a student I was impressed with the professor’s concern that he teach us as best as he can and his humility in voluntarily accepting our feedback (as opposed  to the evaluations at the end of the semester which are obligatory).  I don’t remember if there were changes in his style of teaching or in the course afterward but I think that it probably increased the students’ respect for the professor and as a result improved the learning atmosphere.

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