Dear Professor: Why Are You So Mean?

IMG_0871To: Dr. G.

From: Emily H.

Re. Why I Am Giving You A Shitty Evaluation

Dear Professor,

I took your communications class because I have to. I was forced to take it to meet my major requirements and I don’t want to be there. But, okay. So, I’m like, “I’ll make the best of it, whatever.” I just want to be a news anchor or an event planner why do I have to take all this stuff that has nothing to do with what I plan to do in my life!!! So first this expensive textbook we had to buy, fine. We come to class and your all like  blah blah blah and then we watch this film outside of class and we’re suppose to give a presentation with a partner. Based off the chapter. We start the presentation and you’re like “Wait a minute” and it turns out we’re not doing it right. Then every time we try to just finish and tell you about the film you keep stopping us. It’s really frustrating. Then you’re like blah blah blah and explain to us why you’re stopping us and we’re like “Can’t we just give the stupid presentation and sit down?” Why can’t you just tell us what you want and let us do it and leave us alone?

Then there’s the whole textbook. How come we cant just read the chapters then and take a quiz or something?  Why do we do all this other stuff in class like talk and have you interrupt us and give talks where after you’re like all critical. WHY CANT WE JUST go over the chapters together, which is what I expect to do when I READ what I’m suppose to read. Oh right you make us write essays and then you make these comments on them asking all kinds of questions and even coming down on spelling and wording. How come you can’t just read hwat I wrote and not get hung up on the details.

And this one film on racism, I get it, we talk about it in all my classes so why not just one more class where you just feel bad and don’t find out anything new. I get it. White people are horrible racists end of story. Then when we talk about it in class if I say anything its wrong. You’re always trying to make us talk and then it’s not the right way to talk. So I give up.

Then we’re suppose to do stuff off campus and take a certain kind of notes and you give us all this extra reading that frankly I don’t have time to look at about “how to take field notes.” I know how to take notes ok? I learned that in middle shool. And you keep asking us to set the stage, explain what time of day, what we saw, describe this but I’m not allowed to have feelings about it right. And every time I’m like “Okay then the sky was blue it was 3 p.m. and people were on their way to work” you’re like, “Wait, where exactly were you?” and “How do you KNOW they are on their way to work?” and “Hundreds of people? Or tens? Or a few?” and “What did you see that made you think most people were on their way to work?” or “What inferences are you making?” and “Is that an assumption?” and I’m like just let this class be over.

Its like most of the time you ask questions we’re suppose to answer so you can say back, ‘You totally suck at everything.” Keenan was telling what he saw on that one afternoon all he said was “This one woman was so mad” and you have to stop him and say “How do you know what she felt? Describe what you saw,” well, he saw that this one woman was mad. I go, “This girl was wearing a really nice sweater” and you’re like, “Ok, that’s an evaluative statement,” and I’m like please kill me now.

This is what I wrote down that you said. “If what you learn in this class is how to pause to look at the world, see it more clearly, describe what you have observed before inferring, interpreting and evaluating and before making claims you will have learned what I hoped you would learn.” And later you said “If you can differentiate description from evaluation and notice how people behave in contexts you will have learned what I wanted you to learn.” Then later you went “If beyond that you begin to notice your own ways of making meaning, if you start to be curious about that and to relate how we make meaning to how we live together, you will have learned what I hoped you would learn.” Which one is it. Im so confused. Plus I have no idea what you meant I guess you di’dnt make your point with us, oops.

The best thing this whole semester was the gust speaker you had who came and told us about his work in the community and how hes like just absorbing it and asking questions and learning all the time and writing reports and blogs for the community and excited about it. That was awesome. I wish he was our teacher. I didn’t learn anything in this class and thats why I am giving you a shitty evaluation.



To: Emily H.

From: Dr. G.

Re. Why I Am Giving You A Shitty Evaluation

Emily, thank you for taking the time to write at the end of the semester. While it might have been a good idea to meet with me much earlier to talk about our class, I’ll try to respond here and now to the comments you have offered in explanation for why you are giving me a shitty evaluation.

First– yes, alas, as you’ve noted, I pay attention to spelling, wording and mechanics–in short, to language–to what is being communicated, by whom and in what ways. I tend to notice aspects of language use only when such aspects either stun me with their brilliance or begin to undermine the communication experience for me as a co-participant in an exchange or relationship. I also attend to language when the metacommunication supersedes the content, as it begins to do in your e-mail: you refer to our discipline as “communications,” for example, right out of the gate–when your major is, in fact, “Communication,” our department is “Communication,” and communication is communication, no need for an “s.” Your use of the plural communicates to me that either you don’t notice that we (in the discipline, the major and in class) use “communication” or that you have noticed, and decided that your way is better. The former tells me that you haven’t observed, attended to or been curious enough to wonder about the conflict between what your major is called and how you refer to it. The latter tells me that my perception of the possibility of teaching you anything has been accurate, and that, as you say, our shared experience has been an epic fail.

About the book: as I explained the first week of class, I don’t often use textbooks, but this one is excellent, rich in information, well-researched and written, student-centered–and raises into view the complexities that I myself like to raise for consideration in a class such as this. The book helps to provide grounding theory and foundational material for everything else we’ve done. Your in-class comments, writing assignments and presentations were to have been based upon (not “based off”) our reading. Students have been repeatedly invited to apply what they have learned while reading and reflecting –to draw upon questions raised by the text, and to respond to prompts posed by me or arising from the student’s own unquenchable (or, in some cases quenchable–or, sadly, quenched) intellectual curiosity.

Class was designed to be primarily dialogic, with very few quizzes or exams but instead offering a great deal of varied experiences: prompted and facilitated class discussions, field trips and excursions, writing exercises including short essays and blogs, and short, informal presentations. These activities are where you might not only struggle to articulate complicated ideas but also demonstrate (and where I might appraise) your best thinking. I have indeed interrupted student presentations, though (perhaps you noticed?) never when the student presenting has provided a solid organizational structure and utilized conceptual frames, terms and approaches that were assigned. During presentations in which students do not first lay the groundwork (but rather jump randomly into some aspect of what was seen, observed or considered, making opening statements such as, “Well, we watched the movie, and chose this one scene where there’s a party, and it’s like I don’t know, these people come together in this one girl’s house and–“– or “I went to a very sketchy park and saw these Black kids on a picnic with their parents”) I do, absolutely, step in and call a time-out to focus upon why we’re here and what the purpose of the assignment is.

Sometimes, yes, I pose probing or focusing questions, and sometimes, I simply ask that the presenting student lay out more descriptively the essential information he/she/the listener needs to understand before proceeding to an interpretation or analysis. As this is the heart of what I’m teaching– this, and the habit of thinking contextually and developing an approach to the world that is first descriptive before being evaluative–it seems we’ll both get more out of presentations if you’re not doing something completely different.

I grasp that, in spite of my having articulated the pedagogical function of this interactive process, you nonetheless feel that I am rude to intervene in your musings on the film, the outing or the reading. You dislike the transactional nature of these lessons. I suggest that getting the “right answer” (or avoiding discomfort, or pleasing me, or getting the presentation over with so you can sit down) might not be the most productive goals for you to hold in a classroom. Some students actually look forward to and are rewarded by lively, collaborative interactions with teachers, finding these the most stimulating opportunities to explore ideas together. They do not experience the teacher as mean, but rather as invested in their learning: as teaching. It may sound unbelievable to your ears, but one reaction to being told one is thinking unclearly or has misunderstood or made a mistake is: “Oh! Ha! Right! I see the error.” or “Wow! This is more challenging than I expected it to be!” or “Thanks!”

At any rate, imagine my delight in having you in my class! Seeing your alarmed expression as I sought to engage you in lively conversation… watching dismay color your features as I crushed your spirit (by asking you in a genial way if you had noticed any patterns of behavior in the object of your observation)… perceiving your jaw tighten and being subjected to your chilly silence after I wondered if you had noticed that you were evaluating, not describing.

What I ought to say is that having you in class has made the whole semester an uphill struggle; your disengaged countenance kept me awake trying to find different ways to interest you, and the more I worked on that the more you shut down, chose hostility over friendly, curious engagement, glowered and rolled your eyes… and the less satisfying the class became, for me, over the weeks. Oh, and the atmosphere of discontent you generated affected others, too. That was the best part of all.

Well, at least, I think we’ve achieved a kind of mutuality in our parting days.

Along with the course description and teaching/learning objectives I made available on the first day of class, along with the hopes I’ve repeatedly articulated for students to fully take on the challenges this class poses, along with my provision of all the assignment parameters and the grading rubrics I’ve published and my ongoing comments on your written and oral work, I hope this e-mail serves as my own explanation of why I am giving you a “C-” for the semester–and also why a “C-” is generous. Finally, I do, genuinely, wish you all the best and hope your other classroom experiences feel better to you than this one did, and that you have a long and rewarding career and life.

-Dr. G.






  1. My response to above student:

    Learning is not one person force-feeding another; learning is interactive and you must have an open mind. You do not. You fail. Think about this and try again.

  2. Pingback: Dear Professor: Why Are You So Mean? — | Janna L. Goodwin

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