FYI – The students are grading you!

Apr 12, 2006 by

Much hullabaloo has been made in recent months about the unadulterated, privacy-be-forgotten, and questionable use of MySpace by students, especially teenage students. In an era when older generations are consumed with the fears of identity theft and stolen credit information, students are apparently “bearing all” on their MySpace home pages, allowing every stranger, stalker, and predator on the internet to easily dig through their personal lives. Now, I know that not all students are using MySpace to unwittingly make themselves a prime target for online predators, and not all students are posting embarrassing and compromising information in a very public place; the internet. In fact, the honesty of MySpace translates very nicely into several other sites on the web, including a quite popular site that allows students (and parents) to rate their teachers online.

RateMyTeachers.com is a unique site that encourages those traditionally ignored (students) to join the public discourse on improving education. I know what you’re thinking; a bunch of bored high school students joining a site so they can bash their teachers and continue to prove that students should not have any say in a teacher’s evaluation. However, after using this site for more than a year now to see how teachers in my school building and district are rated (sadly I haven’t been rated yet), a number of surprisingly honest ratings both for the good and bad have reaffirmed a belief of mine; Students need to be engaged with a sense of mutual respect and have their thoughts validated by others. In fact, of all the reviews and ratings on their site (which number in the hundreds of thousands), over 70% of them are favorable, proving that students are an excellent indication of which teachers work and which teachers need to get to work on improving their classroom skills.

Why am I blogging about this? How does it relate to practical uses of technology in the classroom? For one, it’s an excellent, and quite simple, example of students coming together to share, collaborate, and build a knowledge base online. Secondly, it proves that a site with quite a large potential for abuse is actually creating something quite useful for parents and students (helping to decide which teacher to take next year for Chemistry 1 or Intro to British Lit.). Most importantly, it allows teachers that are open to change (and shouldn’t we all be?) to communicate with their students in a manor that might not be as free and open in the classroom. The owners of the site are first to mention that it’s not a perfect solution to helping teachers improve the quality of their teaching. And there are plenty of bad apples willing to lay down some derisive language about their teachers, but the overall experience is a powerful motivator to connect with your students on their playing field, and is an eye-opener for those teachers that haven’t released just how seriously many students take their education.

So if you’re brave enough, go take a look and see how you’ve been rated. Braver still? Share the site with your students, and see how honest they are at home when they start rating you, then join as a teacher and start a dialogue with your students. You just might be surprised at what you discover.

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11 Comments

  1. I’ve not been rated yet either. Personally, I’m open to being rated by my students. Afterall, they’re the only ones who can decide if I’m actually being effective or not.

    I hesitate from recommending the site though. I don’t think other teachers in my building would be very happy if I advocated students use the site.

  2. Ben

    Agreed on openly recommending the site to students Steve, which is why I wrote that only those with the utmost bravery should share the site with students. However, if you were to be open with the site from day one with initial contact to parents it might help give the site and it’s system a certain level of legitimacy that other educators might find difficult to complain about.

    That and educators that would be unhappy about students being encouraged to rate the efficacy of their teachers are especially the ones that need to see how their students honestly feel about them.

    If this post picks up anymore traction (which I’m hoping it will) I’m thinking of starting a thread on the forum about it. I feel that students should have a say in evaluating their education (we did in college), and technology is making it more and more easy to do just that.

  3. Tom

    It looks pretty accurate to me. I know enough about four or five schools to check some individuals and I was impressed.

    Many teachers would freak out but I think they’d be getting slammed by the “grading” as well.

    It’d be nice to see something like this used professionally but I’m afraid that’s unlikely. I did similar “end of course reports ” in college but never saw any impact from them. I think that’d be key as well- I’d want to see some results though.

  4. Ben

    I thought it was pretty accurate too Tom. Although I’m not rated, several of the teachers I know are, and for better or worse, the kids seem to have pretty accurately rated them.

    I’m sure that a district using one of those commercially available website solutions might be able to have the company include a feature like this on the site, that way it could be closely monitored and administrated by the school district. Course evaluations as well as individual teachers evaluations could be done to help high schoolers deciding which classes to take and from which teachers.

  5. I don’t think this could ever be officially sanctioned by the school or district for legal reasons. Just like parents and students are not allowed to view personal reprimands or parent complaint letters that might be in a teacher’s file.

  6. Ben

    There’s a good point Steve. I’m curious though, is the viewing of personal reprimands an edict originally written by schools, the government, or union contracts? My guess would be the last of the 3, but I could see why schools, without the help of the union, might want to protect their employees.

    However, with the recent developments in some Catholic Dioceses (and I know I’m treading on thin ice here, so stop me please if I go too far) in which complaints were concealed by the church only to have certain priests moved and continue their behavior, could it be equally likely that so called “bad teachers” are only being reinforced to teach poorly by not being subject to a much more public review?

  7. It could be that bad teachers are being reinforced. Ideally, teachers who do a bad job will be fired after sufficient documentation has been palced in their personal files. Notice, I said ideally. I have a feeling that this often does not happen due to a number of mostly in-school political reasons.

    I’m no expert on contract law, but I bet if the evaluations were to be used in any way to influence continued employment than it would be illegal for the employer to make them available to the public. And if not illegal it would be grounds for a law suit. Even if the school didn’t loose they’d still have to pay their lawyers to fight it.

  8. As a teacher in Japan, the students are always keeping tabs on the teacher. English conversation/language schools are a major industry in Japan…People, not only Japanese are always looking for a good teacher!

  9. Ben

    Steve: I agree with you that poorly performing teachers are often not removed from their jobs, and are rarely given the tools they need to improve. In fact, I think that’s what gives rise to a site like this. I hadn’t thought about the legal ramifications of making a school evaluation public without consulting the teacher, but it makes sense what you’ve said.

    Nathan, welcome to the conversation. Would you say that Japanese parents concerned about getting a good teacher would use a site like this to help determine whether the teacher is capable, or would it be too informal for that purpose?

  10. Most Japanese parents put their faith in brand name education. Japan along with most of Asia push their kids into cram schools…or a juku in Japanese…these schools are major industry. After school, you will find kids not out and about but heading to the juku which is usually located near a station, so that after an extra 4 plus hours of study they can catch the last train and head home just in time for bed…
    Great site you have, would love to see it in Japanese, as that would be the only real way to know if you would reach the Japanese mind…

  11. Ben

    I’ve heard of those cram schools; an internet friend of mine spent some time teaching in a middle school as part of en exchange program and she talked about how much they study. I can’t imagine asking children in the United States to do that same; my classroom would probably revolt against me 🙁

    However, for your reading pleasure, here’s a link to this page in Japanese as translated by Alta Vista’s Babel Fish. I’m sure it’s full of all sorts of horrible grammatical mistakes, but interesting nonetheless.

    Tech Savvy Educator in Japanese – Thanks Babel Fish!

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