Blake Fetty is a Lecturer of Spanish at the University of Central Oklahoma
I received an anonymous and devastating review from a student in the past. While I did not know who the student was, I was hurt. However, by realizing that my evaluations are overall constructive and positive, I put the negative rating into its proper perspective.
There could be a myriad of reasons for a bad review. But, regardless of the reason, it’s possible to turn a bad review into a positive learning experience if the constructive feedback the student includes is plentiful enough. If the review has no constructive feedback, you can let it roll off your back.
Here are some methods to help you effectively move forward after a bad student review.
Check Your Response
Yes, a bad student review hurts. It feels way too personal at times. You wish you could explain more to the student who left the review and hopefully leave it behind you. Typically, however, this isn’t possible.
Student evaluations are almost always anonymous. Therefore, the only way forward is to recognize what you’re feeling, acknowledge the sting, then try and contextualize why the review was written in the first place. The answer could be one of many possibilities. It might even be because a student is going through a hard time and happened to set their sights on you and a perceived slight in the classroom.
Don’t Dismiss a Bad Review Outright
Sometimes, our initial reaction to a negative student review is to dismiss it altogether. We chalk it up to “Well, this is the way I teach, and if they couldn’t hack it, so be it.…” But this mindset only creates a barrier between you and your students.
The mere fact that the student took the time to write such a negative review can tell you one of two things: Either they are on to something, or else they’re projecting their frustrations onto you. Both are possible. Be sure you take the time to consider each possibility.
Read Between the Lines
Are the student’s frustrations valid? Are there things you can realistically change or improve about content delivery? If the feedback is 100% negative, you can safely assume that the student wasn’t really trying to give feedback, but rather to get “revenge” for a grade they felt they didn’t deserve or some other perceived injustice.
Put the Review into Context
Are you receiving multiple negative reviews each semester? Is there a pattern to them? Are students sharing similar concerns? If so, great! Now you have something you can improve on to become an even better instructor.
Sometimes, a review is a mixed bag of constructive and negative points. A student may qualify their negative review by saying, “Well, I did the homework. I read the book. I studied for exams. And I still came up short.” This is the kind of feedback that can be invaluable. If a student has done their best, (and they’re willing to share the work they put in), there is probably some validity to their critical points.
On the flip side, if the review is completely devoid of context or justification, you can probably disregard it. Odds are it’s just a student projecting their frustrations onto you. Again, the key is to spend some time trying to put the review into context. If your reviews are mostly positive and constructive, you’re on the right path in those students’ eyes – and their perception of your teaching is just as valid as your own self-perception.
By taking a minute to put the bad review into context—analyzing the reasons the student might have left it and double-checking for any constructive criticism—every instructor can turn this unfortunate and unavoidable aspect of teaching into a positive.
The key is in looking for context, explanation and evidence that the student was doing their part to meet you in the middle. If these are missing from their review, you can move forward without worry (provided you can check your emotional response, too).
Even the best teachers will end up with student reviews that they find unfair. It’s best to be prepared and have a toolbox of coping skills for when that inevitably happens.
If you received a negative review recently, ask yourself, “Did I take the minimum amount of time to look for any hidden constructive feedback?” If you have not had the experience of receiving a negative review yet, ask yourself, “If I were to get a negative review this semester, what are my strategies for coping with it in a constructive manner?”
Hopefully, these suggestions will help us all cope more productively with the unpleasant experience of receiving a bad review so we can learn, grow and move forward.
According to the 2022 Faces of Faculty report, instructors are receiving more student reviews than they have in the past. Download the full report to discover more about how instructors’ roles have changed over the past 3-5 years.