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Web sites rate teachers

December 21, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Under the cloak of anonymity, students across the country are panning and praising their teachers on the Internet.

The feedback system appears to have taken hold in the Tri-State region, where instructors at about 30 public and private secondary schools, colleges and universities have drawn at least one student comment on national Web sites.

The goal is to keep instructors engaged in their work, said Michael Hussey of Sharper Communications in Alfred, Maine. Hussey said he helped found RateMyTeachers.com in August 2001.

John Swapceinski, a partner in RateMyTeachers.com, founded a companion site, RateMyProfessors.com, around the same time.

Professors' increasing tendency to concentrate more on research than teaching inspired RateMyProfessors, Hussey said.

As of last week, RateMyProfessors had 1.4 million ratings for 294,000 professors at 3,600 schools. RateMyTeachers had 3.5 million ratings for 574,000 teachers at 31,000 schools.

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Some area educators contacted for this story were skeptical about the concept.

"I don't think I put much credence in it," North Hagerstown High School physical education teacher and wrestling coach Greg Slick said.

Slick received good feedback at the Web site. But he could get 10 bad ratings the next day, he said; would that make him any better or worse of a teacher?

"It was probably created as a way for kids to bust on teachers ...," Slick said. "You could just as easily find something in the bathroom that says, 'Coach Slick is a dirty dog.'"

Waynesboro (Pa.) Area Senior High School Principal Jami Verderosa was a target at her school's section of RateMyTeachers.

"Needs to not favor athletes over other students," one student wrote. "Needs to not try to change everything in the school."

Others called her "very poor" and said she should be replaced, but a few left good scores.

"To be honest, I don't visit the Web site," Verderosa said. "It doesn't mean much to me."

She said the people she listens to are those who speak directly to her or another administrator or a teacher.

Students who don't feel comfortable doing that can go through the Student Council, she said.

During an interview, as Verderosa scanned comments about her at RateMyTeachers, she refuted a remark blasting her for moving last year's graduation to Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md.

That was not her decision, she said.

A few days later, the remark had been removed from the Web site.

Defending his principal, Student Council President Ryan Conrad noted that only a handful of students out of several hundred at the school left comments.

"Over the past few years, Mrs. Verderosa brought a great change and people are scared to accept that change," Conrad, a senior, said.

One example - which might have sparked the anonymous favoritism comment - is the "spirit flag" that flies outside the building to recognize athletes and other student achievers, he said.

Each day, Verderosa announces for whom the flag is flying.

Conrad said some students feel comfortable talking to teachers and others don't. Those who don't can channel their gripes to administrators through peer groups, he said.

Dismissing the Web site, Conrad said, "Maybe students don't have much to do when they get home."

Don Wehr, the director of Hagerstown Business College's information technology department, hadn't heard of RateMyProfessors, but he likes the idea.

Wehr said colleges that hand down education from figurative ivory towers suffer without customer feedback.

With that end in mind, Wehr started a teacher rating system about 30 years ago, as a professor at the University of Nevada in Reno.

That was around the time the campus first had terminals for students to connect to a mainframe, he said.

The school had about 4,000 students. During the first semester, the A-through-F rating system drew about 11,000 responses.

Wehr said the university president visited classes with high or low ratings, testing the validity of the anonymous responses.

As a result, many teachers changed their ways. For example, Wehr said, history teachers stopped using stale lectures on which they had relied for 20 years.

At the same time, Wehr said, he was ostracized by many faculty members.

At Hagerstown Business College, Wehr and professors in his department go over evaluations by students. They look for reasonable criticisms and specific ideas for improvement - maybe something as simple as changing the orientation of the desks so they don't face the door, eliminating the distractions of the hallway.

This is what students posted about Wehr as a teacher:

"Excellent knowledge - hard, but fun"

"Very detailed"

"Passed the prometric test. Class examples right on, but hard."

"I did not agree with some of the focus on large involved designs, but they were on the test and I passed the [M]icrosoft test first try. Thank you!"

Wehr was glad to hear those remarks, which were accompanied with high ratings.

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