“And you’re boring;
and you’re totally ordinary;
and you know it.”
-Ricky Fitts, American Beauty quote
Pretty soon we get our students’ evaluations back from the spring semester. I suspect mine will be strikingly ordinary again.
At the risk of sounding like the girl from American Beauty, I can’t think of too many labels more damming than “ordinary.”
Looking back on my college experience, the sorriest professors weren’t the ones I couldn’t stand but the ones I can’t remember. I can recall something about every college class that ever inspired me to bash a professor at the end of the term on the student evaluation forms.
But anytime I found myself bubbling in all the middle circles and skipping the open-ended questions—that was a bad sign. If I had no strong opinion after four months of being in someone’s class, then I likely hadn’t learned much either.
I never thought I’d someday become that dull guy, about whom students have nothing to add, and will find little worth remembering. Yet here I am less than a decade later getting similar feedback, vague and neutral.
In some ways, I’d rather be hated by students than have them find my classes “okay.” At least I’d know I was making some sort of impression.
Unambiguously negative feedback might be liberating. People who know they suck at something are freer to move about, find new things they’re good at. It’s the ones in the median who spin their tires and get stuck, and end up devoting their lives to being “not too bad” at something.