The Most Important Teaching Evaluation for a Historian

I teach American history at the University at Albany. I teach the second-half of the American history survey course that covers 1965 to the present. As a history department instructor I am subject to several types of course evaluations from my students, two of them from the university and department respectively, and three from the structure of my course. I ask my students what they found most interesting, for a frank critique of my course structure, and their guess of my political persuasion. Yes. I ask my students, on the last day of class, if they can guess my political persuasion based on the way I taught the class. Specifically, I asked my students if I was a liberal or a conservative, and for evidence indicating why they think so.

The results were revealing:

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Clearly Liberal (gives convincing evidence to support their guess) – 4

“but you appreciate that good ideas from the other side exist”

“you seem open to new policies that you discussed in class”

“your love and passion for civil rights, and your emphasis for achieving freedom in this country”

“based on the way you taught the class”

Guess Liberal (gives no evidence, or shaky evidence to support their guess) – 7

“Democratic because I just guessed, I don’t think you really showed any bias throughout the course”

“I would say liberal because of being a teacher (stereotyping, I know)”

“Because you are a teacher and teachers are all about unions…and you don’t seem to be a conservative”

“I don’t follow politics but would guess democrat b/k republicans are old and rich”

“Because you give help during office hours”

“there have been times in class where you have hinted towards siding with liberal ideology”

“you are neither democratic or republican….but your political stance is liberal…being on the equality and liberty side”

Neutral/Independent – 13

“you teach about both sides of the spectrum you really don’t give off any bias really”

“Independent because you have your own way of running the class and have non-conformative activities and assignments”

“Independent because you never leaned towards one specific side of politics”

“you teach us a lot but don’t really add a lot of opinions to your lectures”

“I don’t know, don’t think your teaching has reflected your politics”

“You almost always present views from both sides of a political debate”

“You are either a democrat or a republican”

“you seem to be very good at providing neutral material and simply giving facts”

“you play devil’s advocate for a lot of political standings, I’d say you were more independent”

“you really did a good job at staying neutral throughout the class”

“You haven’t really been outspoken on any issues”

“you can’t be biased while teaching a class, which you’ve done a good job of”

“There were a lot of instances where I feel you could have been biased, I never felt as if you were pushing your ideas on us”

Guess Conservative (gives no evidence, or shaky evidence to support their guess) – 3

“During class discussions the way things were explained were in a more conservative manner”

“I’m not sure but maybe conservatism side?”

“I think you like things to stay the same”

Clearly Conservative (gives convincing evidence to support their guess) – 2

“You don’t like the government being too big”

“because you bashed the New Deal while helping me with my midterm essay”