[Students] want to do as little work as possible, get the highest grades possible, and be entertained the entire time.And this comment may score the highest rating for insightfulness:
[I]f professors have themselves good evaluations, they attach positive meaning to them, and if they have bad ones, they think that only bad teachers get good evaluations.Thinking, however briefly, about this issue has led me to contemplate two modest reforms of student evaluations.
First, as an antidote for the widely held and probably well supported belief that student evaluations correlate strongly with the perceived ease of a course, perhaps we can add a single question to our evaluations: "What grade do you expect to receive in this course?" This is a question for all seasons and all reasons; it does not require that the school in question suggest, let alone enforce, some sort of grading curve.
Second, to the extent this is feasible, I would poll students at some interval, perhaps five years beyond graduation, about courses and instructors they knew while they were enrolled. Some teachers who were popular, precisely because they were thought to be easy, may appear in retrospect to have imparted less value. Or their pedagogy was as enduring as it was entertaining. Or their toughness turned out to have benefited the students, and the most honest graduates are willing to confess that they should have given more positive evaluations. Whatever the case, we can ask.
In the interest of full disclosure, I propose all this as a classroom teacher who (1) did try to entertain students (albeit without success), (2) was rightfully perceived as demanding (even though I most often issued grades under a mandatory curve and therefore could not have been more or less lenient than less demanding colleagues), and (3) sincerely believe that my value as a teacher was not fully appreciated till my students had a chance to work on real problems and to serve real clients. After all, my view of student evaluations is influenced by my historically informed expectation of how kindly I myself will be graded.