When Students Grade the Teacher – Excerpt from Uranus is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh

When we read  Uranus is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh by Bill Spencer,  we laughed aloud so I guess that means the title lived up to the material.  Seriously, HOPress was so proud and excited to publish this book and if you haven’t read it yet, you are missing out.  Now, more than ever we need these doses of humor.  So for a special treat,  we are excerpting his book here. This essay goes out to all the teachers and professors out there. Enjoy!

Bio: Bill Spencer’s humor writing has been published by Funny Times, Narrative magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Sun, The Inconsequential, Clever magazine, Defenestration, HumorOutcasts.com, The Short Humour Site, Hobo Pancakes, and Nuthouse.  He has also published scholarly articles on the novels of Cormac McCarthy, has written more than 140 comic skits performed at the Wildacres Writers Workshop, and has co-authored an unproduced screenplay entitled “Angel Pays a Visit.”  He taught English for thirty-one years, twenty-five of them at Delta State University and six at Western Carolina University.  He lives in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina with his wife, artist-poet Carolyn Elkins.  You can read more of Bill’s work on Humoroutcasts as well (his comments on other posts are legendary.) 


   I’m vain about my teaching ability—so it’s not easy for me to admit that my student evaluations over 31 years were less than stellar, were, in fact, quite mixed.  As one personnel committee report phrased it, I tended “to sharply polarize student opinion.”

My six years of teaching at WCU generated 27 reviews at ratemyprofessors.com, four times the typical number.  Many of the evaluations I’ll quote from can be verified at this site, including this one:  “hard grader, boring speaker, not clear in feedback, expects alot, overall THE DEVIL.”  This comment is one of my favorites because of the surprise twist at the end.  Traditionally, “expects a lot” was considered a positive attribute for a teacher, so its placement right before “overall THE DEVIL” caught me off guard.  I admire the comic misdirection.

Students’ most persistent complaint about me was that my grading standards were too high.  “High” is my word.  Their words were “harsh,” “strict,” and “unfair.”  Consider these 3 assessments:

  • “If you want to try hard and make nothing better than a C than this is your professor.”
  • “If you want to make nothing better than a C on every paper, then take his class.”
  • “As many of the other reviews have said here, if you want to work yourself to death and make          a C, then this class is the one for you.”

As these comments indicate, the most common specific student lament was that they were earning only a “C” in my class.  Those earning a “D” or an “F” were not the ones complaining.  Many, many of my students seemed to regard the “C” grade as cruel and insulting, a punishment, a deliberate, calculated attempt to crush all their aspirations—this despite the fact that my written grading scale described “C” as indicating a satisfactory (though average) performance.  Apparently, “average” is a heinous assessment, worse even than “failing/unsatisfactory,” perhaps because an “F” would have proved that the professor simply had it in for them.

One of my more creative reviews was “You could turn in your finest work and it will get torn to shreds by this look-alike Hitler.”  As for the “finest work” reference, why would you turn in anything else in a college-level English class when the professor is widely known as a hard, tough, un-lenient grader?  The assumption implied here is that students shouldn’t have to do their best work.  As for the “look-alike Hitler” description, I do confess I have a mustache, but I think it makes me look more like Tom Selleck than like Hitler.

My harshest critic wrote, “This guy went out of his way to be a COMPLETE jerk.”  But I think I’ve quoted enough reviews already that you know being a jerk wasn’t at all “out of my way.”

The most constructive criticism I received was this gem:  “It is really frustrating to be in his class because I work my ass off and it does not pay off in the end.  Also his breath does not smell too good in the morning.”  The segue from ass-working to bad breath is a little tenuous, but I appreciated the information.  A little Colgate, a box of Tic Tacs, and problem solved.  I realized I had been eating Cheerios before that class.  While I thought my breath was oaty, he obviously thought it was oaty-ous.

If you check me out at ratemyprofessors.com, you’ll see that I received no chili peppers for “hotness” and that I scored a 1.8 out of 5 for “easiness” (indicating I was perceived as very hard) and a 3.0 out of 5 for “overall quality.”  This 3.0 score is symbolized not by a green smiley face or a red frowny face but by a yellow face with a neutral expression.  Karma’s a bitch:  I worked my ass off for my students for over thirty years, and they rated me “average.”  They gave me the ultimate insult—a “C.”

You can find Uranus is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh on Amazon in paperback and kindle and in retail outlets as well.



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