dark thoughts

I read this article just before I opened my formal university collated ‘student evaluations’ for the most recent teaching semester.  I knew how hard I’d been trying, to strike that balance between being seen as a ‘good’ (likable) teacher, and being the critical pedagogue with high expectations and ‘firm but fair’ practices.  I had more at stake this time around, having had it suggested to me recently that the ‘university’ does pay attention to what the ‘students/clients’ say they want, and if I don’t give it to them, I will hardly be seen as a desirable employee (beyond a shove in at the last minute sessional).  It is also the time of the year, when in common with many of my sessional peers, we may well not be back teaching again for another 4-5 months – if at all.  (See ‘New Year Blues’, the lot of the casual academic; and ‘Anxious Summer Wait for Casual Academics’).

Well, now I have the misery dished out to me by a number of disgruntled students, to add to my sinking confidence, and as per ‘high expectation’ in this article:

“By that I mean when someone is aiming for and constantly expecting really high standards, so that even when there is a positive outcome they feel they have fallen short. So instead of internal aspiration helping them to do well it actually hinders them.”

So I’d like to share, or maybe off-load? some of my students’ comments.  Because, what is the appropriate response?  Would you dare tell someone these things, let alone your supervisor (who of course gets to see them anyway)?  And how many people see these things, how can one know if you truly are the worst (meanest, rudest, uncaring, unprofessional, unhelpful…) fraud that has ever existed, or whether you’re just a bit like everyone else?

In one class I one of my peers asked Annabelle for help. Her response was “you don’t even make any sense so I don’t have time to answer you”. Hmmm?
Seemed uninterested and inhuman outed by the need if her ftudents. Did not model the empathetic teacher the unit  was trying too instill. Assignment feedback was below mediocre andvauge. No suggestions for improvement.
Unfortunately I am very unhappy with the conduct and professionalism of Annabelle. Her feedback for assignment one was negative, hurtful and made me cry. She was neither critical in her criticism or constructive. I felt that the tutorials where a waste of time where we rarely learnt or applied our knowledge of rarely unpacked topics. The second assignment was not thoughtful considered and lacked direction, as with the first one. Overall, I am extremely unhappy and dissatisfied with Annabelle and this unit.
I am extremely dissatisfied by the professionalism and guidance provided by Annabelle. The tutes showed no insight into the lecture and whenever i asked a question it was as though it was a dumb question and i should have remained silent, she never answeed it but scoffed and re asked it out to the other students in the tute to answer it. My assignment feedback wasn’t feedback at all but rather personal attacks remarking more then a number of times ‘not good for a tired marker’ but never stated what was incorrect AT ALL – how am i meant to be enthused for this unit – i am appalled.
University students aren’t the same as primary school students. Don’t talk to us like we are them.

(These statements are copied directly from the spreadsheet I am sent from the faculty).

I thought as much.  Just looking through them makes my stomach churn.  I feel my blood pressure rise.  I wonder who it could have been that was so unhappy with my work and the efforts I made, and why on earth did they save up this nastiness for the final evaluation?  Am I that bad???  I need to go home and give my children hugs because they know I am human, not perfect, and love me all the same.  Then I think I’ll go to bed.  Because I feel so sick of trying …

Just let me share a couple more:

Annabelle was a fantastic tutor, and I would like to have her again in the future.  She was helpful, and made this one of the best classes we had all week, which was good being 5-8pm.  I didn’t miss any sessions as they were relaxed, enjoyable and we learnt so much.

Annabelle really knew her stuff during the Classes. She seemed to understand where we were coming from and knew which level we were at. The Classes were really engaging and it was good to have discussion among information. I think she handled herself really well and as the unit chair I believe she did these Classes great.

It’s just that the previous ones are the ones that remain with me, sneering behind my back and saying ha, you think you deserve a ‘real job’?  You might work hard, but clearly, you don’t do it very well.  Either that or you really are just not a very nice person.

Ok, off home to my children now.



One thought on “Reflections on ‘Dark thoughts: why mental illness is on the rise in academia’

  1. Dear …

    Not sure if you remember but at our last Sessional Staff PD I made a comment about Student Evaluations (Now eVALUate) and the problem with not having a way to ‘debrief’, share or better understand the impacts of these on our professional practice.
    Once again, I have received student feedback that has given me a great deal of angst and frustration, but this is generally something ‘suffered in silence’ and at times, in quiet shame. In particular is the issue that sessional staff have no way to know how their evaluations measure up to others, what the ‘normal’ or expected range might be, and also, if there is some highlighted improvement that is required, where we might go to get professional development/support with this.

    Issues with mental health in academia are receiving some attention in the media (see my blog entry https://tasasociologyofeducation.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/reflections-on-dark-thoughts-why-mental-illness-is-on-the-rise-in-academia/​ ) and I believe this is a key issue. I have had a range of responses when discussing these issues with my various supervisors, a key one being “don’t take any notice of them, I don’t even read them!” or “don’t let it get to you…”, and the occasional helpful suggestion, but often even more senior staff are no more able to help than my poor family and friends who bear the brunt of my frustrations.

    I would like to know if, as a sessional staff member, I have access to professional development in the areas needing improvement – knowing that this ‘need’ will be quite different for different individuals? I would also like to have some reference when considering my evaluations, as to how these might compare across different cohorts. This also relates to the need for more transparency in how our ‘scores’ or ‘rankings’ are used by administration to make judgments about our perceived ability to ‘do our jobs well’, which, it seems to me, is directly rated according to pleasing (being ‘nice’ to) the student/client.

    Thanks and regards, Annabelle Leve


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