I’ve been a tired-looking non-threatening person for long enough that I’m used to being judged by the people around me. I got pretty used to the flinch that comes any time someone noticed the dead rings beneath my eyes, and I could see them wondering if I was either exhausted, wearing makeup in a really strange way, or genuinely hurt. But now it’s time to be professionally judged. It’s approaching the end of the semester, so I’ve started getting all the fun email reminders that I need to kindly entreat my students to actually check their email, find the link the university has sent them about 6 times by now, and then judge the hell out of me.
My problem is not the evaluations themselves. I actually like reading everything they’ve got to say, and usually, they write some funny, weird stuff because that’s what I tell them to do if they can’t think of anything else–stick it to the bureaucrats who evaluate the university by telling them you wish the class had more tigers. My problem isn’t the evaluations, it’s getting my students to actually do them. I’ve never had the opportunity to persuade a brick wall to dance, but I feel like it’s comparable to asking students to complete their course evals. I’ve tried offering extra credit, treats, and a day of just listening to music and watching videos. Nothing worked. I still had at least 4 students every semester that didn’t do it. If the job search doesn’t go well, then this might be my last semester teaching composition, so I want a perfect score to close it out. These are my ideas for how I might do that.
I’m not a wealthy person. My travel mug came from a lost and found, and I think I’m actually pretty close to getting my mail forwarded to Goodwill because it’s honestly more likely I’ll be in the kitchen section there than at home. I’ve never been what anyone would call “comfortable” or even “doing alright,” but I do see the merit and necessity of bribery. I think if I offer up the right reward, my students might actually get all their course evals done. But then I have to wonder: what is both affordable to me and valuable to them? School supplies? Food? Drugs? Actually, I get my pens from the lost and found too. And I often end up eating the same noodle food-substitute they do. And my drug supply is limited to expired cold medicine, extra strength ibuprofen, and some prescription stuff that won’t get anyone high but keeps me from hating myself. Then what do I have to offer them? Maybe it’s not a matter of giving them something but taking it away. They love it when I cancel, but I almost never do it. I was already planning on making the last day of class optional. What if I just tell them the last day is free attendance only if they all do their course evals? Lies, that’s what I’ll use to bribe them.
Dropping a Score
I’ve had teachers offer to drop a low score if everyone pulled something incredible off. Typically, the teacher would offer this, and suddenly the chaotic free market of the classroom would become a strong socialist workforce in which every student worked for the good of themselves and their fellows. Could I do that? Could I offer to drop one of the little essays they did at the beginning, the ones everyone did poorly on because they underestimated just how crazy I am. Or I could take this a step further. I could offer to drop the students themselves. If the whole class finishes their course evals, then we turn into a reality tv style situation where students get to vote each other off the island.
Something happens toward the end of every class I’ve taught, and I don’t really know how to feel about it, but I’ve been resistant to it so far. I’m pretty informal with my students because I can generally rely on my relentless enthusiasm for writing and rhetoric to communicate to them who the teacher is better than steadfast formality ever could. However, I’ve noticed that informality tends to communicate something to my students that I don’t actually want. They want to be my friend. This usually manifests as them asking me to add them on Facebook or Instagram or any of the myriad social media I don’t actually have. This semester a student actually asked me to party with them, but when I said no, they were thoughtful enough to clarify that I wouldn’t have to drink because “we could just get high.” I made sure they knew there wasn’t a chance of that happening and that I and every other me in every other parallel reality was actually busy that day, and quite boring to party with anyway. I won’t party with my students, whether they’re past or current, but I have another option. An unthinkable option, something I’ve resisted telling them for months. I could tell them where to find me. I’m a pretty reclusive person, but I do go out to a few tea shops like clockwork. I am almost always at one of them in the morning a few days a week, and so far no students have found me, but I could invite them. I could tell them where to find me if they actually just wanted to sit and chat. I could give them my sanctuary if it means getting all of them to just fill out their damn evaluations. It’s a trade: tell me if you thought I was decently useful and I’ll give you one of my most precious places.
Maybe one of these will work. Maybe they won’t, but I’m going to do whatever I need to do to get that 100 percent response rate, even if it means lying, turning the class into a game show, or trading in my safe places.