Student feedback about teachers has become a parameter for performance appraisal in some Calcutta schools.
How does the teacher handle the syllabus in class? Does she come prepared and encourage questions? Is the teacher prompt in returning test papers?
These are some of the questions that students from middle school till Class XII are being asked as part of a system prevalent in many universities.
At Sushila Birla Girls’ School and Don Bosco Liluah, students fill in a questionnaire each about their subject teachers. Students are required to grade their teachers on a six-point scale in every aspect, where six is the highest and one the lowest. Students also need to rate their teachers in terms of overall performance.
Most school heads say they are experimenting with the system and are cagey about calling it a part of performance appraisal. “It is a small measure of what students think of their teachers rather than a foolproof or exhaustive method of evaluation,” said Brother Jose Puthenpurackel, principal of Don Bosco Liluah.
Modern High’s assessment form has questions meant to help teachers understand learning preferences.
A few schools have been seeking student feedback for around eight years while some adopted the practice a couple of years ago. Loreto House discontinued the process because it did not work out the way the school had expected. St. James’ framed a questionnaire, only to withhold it because there was no consensus on whether students were mature enough to assess teachers.
The underlying fear is that students might get carried away while rating a teacher they have a strong liking or dislike for. A popular teacher might be someone who gives “free periods” while the unpopular one could be a disciplinarian who teaches well.
The schools that have persisted with the system feel that 90 per cent of the students are not prejudiced. They are seen as mature enough to judge what is good for them and understand that how they assess a teacher will have a bearing on his or her conduct and proficiency in teaching.
But isn’t there a danger of students ganging up against a teacher they don’t like? “If all or most students give a low score to a teacher in a particular area, that needs to be investigated,” said Sharmila Bose, principal of Sushila Birla Girls’ School.
So how much weight does student feedback carry during the performance appraisal of teachers? “It is a part of the evaluation process. A teacher discharges many duties that a student can’t quantify. The teacher’s role in a school is multi-dimensional and one of these dimensions is assessed by students,” principal Bose said.
Schools maintain a record of how students have rated a teacher and the result is communicated to the person so that he or she can work on the deficiencies, perceived or real. The trick, as principal Sunirmal Chakravathi of La Martiniere for Boys says, is to take whatever a student says “with a pinch of salt”.
“If a student is extremely negative about a teacher, he/she might be assessing the person on parameters other than the quality of teaching. If a student is all praise for a teacher, it should raise a doubt,” Chakravathi said.
Modern High asks questions about the learning experience and not about the teachers. The school distributes assessment forms among students from classes VI to XI. The questionnaire includes a section where the student has to specify which subjects they like and which they don’t. “Teachers appreciate the system rather than find it threatening,” said Devi Kar, director of Modern High.
Do you think students should be asked to evaluate their teachers?