Student evaluations can be harrowing and baffling for those of us who are new faculty. I strive for excellence, but if my students’ feedback is any indication, I am not as excellent as I strive to be, though there are times, apparently, when I am doing better than I think I am.
Section A of one course gave me high marks. Section B of the same course gave me middling marks. I presented the same material in roughly the same way. I enjoyed my time with both sections equally well. It is a difficult lesson to learn that liking and being liked are only tangentially related to excellence in the classroom; for I, in the eyes of some, am mediocre at helping them learn, however well-intentioned and enthusiastic I may be.
I do take some consolation from two things. My students from a different course, with whom I struggled all semester and left not knowing if I had reached anyone, seemed to think I did above average. (Metrics from other sections taught by other instructors indicate as much.) Most importantly, the consensus among my students seems to be that all philosophers since Socrates have been more annoying than useful. However lesser an intellectual, I am in good company.