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You Don’t (Always) Have to Listen to the Complainers

June 24, 2011

Happy Friday! Isn’t fantastic to make it to the end of another week and have it be Friday? I quite like Fridays. To celebrate today, I thought we’d talk about ignoring complainers and end with something fun. How does that sound? Good? Let’s get into it then.

Again today I’m taking inspiration from Seth Godin, specifically his post on giving umbrage. I enjoy most of Godin’s posts, but I loved this post. The issue of what to do about vocal complainers, especially now that it is so easy to air every little perceived wrong online, and the weight that these complaints should have is one of the constant issues I think about in life and in my work as an instructor.

One place that this conflict of how much power and time to give to complainers is on evaluation forms filled out by students at the end of a course. Many institutions, including mine, place a good deal of emphasis on getting good student evaluations. But, as many of us know from firsthand experience (and also evidence-based studies), the evaluations reflect whether or not the students liked you, not whether the course was useful or your teaching style was effective.

Now I’m completely for listening to student feedback and thoughtful reflection. I encourage feedback from my students and incorporate a lot of their suggestions into my subsequent classes. And, for the most part, I receive mature, considered evaluations from my students. However, I’ve also been on the end of receiving immature, uncalled for expletives because I’ve refused to pass failing students or reported instances of academic dishonesty. These have been incredibly vocal students, but should these complainers be taken seriously?

I don’t think so. It’s like letting one canister of film with vinegar syndrome destroying the rest of the film in an archives. You don’t let that happen, just like you throw out outliers when doing statistical analyses. Especially as an instructor, if you try anything out of the ordinary and/or have high expectations, most of your students will react positively and do swimmingly. But you also have to be ready for the complainers, therefore you need to develop a thick skin and the ability to let your department chair or supervisor know why you are getting a few complaints amidst the heaps of praise (or at least neutral comments) from the rest of your students.

In life too, it seems like we spend a lot of time catering to those who are belligerent complainers. We see this in libraries, archives, and really all service professions. But we’ll never please everyone, so we should focus on being receptive and reflective, but not bending every (single) time someone complains. If we do, we’ll never get anything done and be constantly on defense, which isn’t fun. Be receptive to constructive criticism, not groundless whining and complaining.

Anyway, that’s my (more than) two cents on the matter.

Now on to some fun stuff for your weekend. It’s finally summer and it’s just turned quite warm in the Bay Area. I think it’s then the perfect time to try out Joy the Baker’s strawberry balsamic flatbread. It looks delicious and perfect with a salad.

And to end, one of my favorite Doctor Who videos (because yes, the 11th Doctor is fabulous, but I adore the 10th Doctor). So enjoy Seduff’s “Lonely Angel.”

Have a fantastic rest of your day and a glorious weekend. I’ll be back next week with more thoughts on archives, libraries, and tech. Allons-y!

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