A blog post from our Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction author Susan Muaddi Darraj, whose book A Curious Land: Stories from Home includes the wonderful story “Christmas in Palestine.”
Nobody in academia will admit to checking RateMyProfessors, but we all do, secretly, at night, on our smartphones.
I’ve read my reviews, and I can quote some of the lines verbatim, the way I used to memorize poetry in grade school. My personal favorite is a flippant comment by one student: “Does she like teaching?” (This has actually become a punchline among my friends. When I am cooking, for example, my friends will whisper to each other in my kitchen, “What an attitude. Does she even like cooking?” Or at the playground, when I am reprimanding my kids for throwing sand, my colleague and fellow mom will sarcastically wonder aloud, “Does she even like children?”) One student wrote that I am a terrific professor because I don’t care when people walk in late to my class, which astounds me to have been misread like this. One review stated bluntly, “Buyer beware. Her moods seem to swing.” (I kinda love that one.)
Another student wrote that I “go out of my way” to help students, which makes me feel – honestly – fantastic. And I’m going to do it now.
Here’s the deal: Negative reviews frustrate me, not because they are attacks on my teaching or that they hurt my feelings.
My real problem is that they’re just not written well.
As a teacher I feel compelled – even at this point, post-semester – to “go out of my way” and to give those students, who are considering writing a negative review, some advice.
So, to my students, here’s a rubric (since you’re always asking for one):
Writing Your Negative RateMyProfessors Review
Your review will be assessed according to the following standards.
The writer has a clear purpose. (worth 10 points)
The RateMyProfessors website tells you straight up: “the fate of future students lies in your hands.” You have been to the battlefield and returned alive, and it’s your job to persuade the rest of the troops to march on or retreat. All of your comments should focus on this goal: In a negative review, you must ensure that no student would willingly enroll in this professor’s class. Stick to that purpose – forget it not. You only have 350 characters to use in your review, so include straight-forward comments right at the beginning, such as DON’T TAKE THIS PROFESSOR! (The caps will convey authority.) Or If you’re in this class, drop it now! Don’t wait – drop it! The sense of urgency can be persuasive.
The writer successfully conceals his or her identity. (worth 10 points)
What’s the point of writing a negative review that gives away your identity? What if you have to take that professor’s class again, especially considering that you didn’t do so well the first time? (No, your D won’t transfer to the state university, so guess what? You’re back in my class.) Keep your identity secret. Think carefully about the way you speak or write: Are there certain phrases you repeat? Her empathy is lacking. Don’t you remember that you wrote that in your paper on whaling, that the “empathy of the whale hunters is lacking”? You don’t remember? I do.
In this vein, don’t mention anything exceptional that happened with that professor. Prof is totally unfair – accused me of plagiarism on my Virginia Wolf paper. Me! It’s not my fault that I still think “borrowing text” from Sparknotes.com is plagiarism: Don’t forget that I’m old. But don’t you see how this line gives you away? Because I didn’t catch anyone else using a website meant for high schoolers. This professor thinks like Virginia Wolf is God. Yes, I do. That part is quite true. Virginia Woolf is God.
The writer makes sure to mention something blistering about the professor unrelated to his or her teaching. (worth 10 points)
Does your professor dress like a cougar? Or a gypsy? Or like your grandpa? This is why they don’t get your writing because you are attired in Hollister’s fall line, your feet stuffed in your Ugg boots, and your professor looks like he shops in Goodwill. Mention it. Professor dresses like a weirdo – what’s up with the blazers? Shoulder pads are sooooo 90s. (Actually, they’re from the 80s.) Hello — the 70s called and they want their Birkenstocks back. RateMyProfessors advises you, in its list of tips, to “keep it profesh,” but you can still throw in something like Teacher is a dork who talks about Jane Austen EVERY SINGLE CLASS — that chick died without a husband too! That’ll get her. Let her have it – don’t feel bad… she failed you! You!
The writer thoroughly reviews all previous RateMyProfessors postings and has successfully refuted the positive ones. (worth 15 points)
Do your research. Your goal is to paint a thoroughly horrible portrait of this professor, so make sure nobody has made a claim that could sway the unsuspecting freshman. For example, I don’t know wtf everyone is talking about. She’s the worst. I emailed her 4 times on Saturday night and by Monday morning she still hadn’t gotten back to me. Or how about this: Not sure why everyone says he’s fair. NOT TRUE! He refused to even accept my paper! How was I supposed to know it has to be typed? It might take time to review all previous posts, but it will be worth it.
The writer ensures, after convincing his or her friends to also post negatively about this professor, that they all post on different dates, preferably one week apart. (worth 5 points)
Your friends have never had my class, but they’re loyal. Make sure you are strategic in exploiting their enthusiasm. Nothing gives you away more than having 10 negative reviews posted on the same date as yours, which might also be one day after grades come out. Offer a timeline to your friends. Carrington, you post on Monday, and then Bryce, you wait until Thursday. Got it? Take charge of the situation and make a schedule.
Also, make sure they don’t repeat the same complaints – vary them slightly. If everyone uses the same wording, as in Professor has a bit of an attitude, that indicates that all ten reviews had the same author. Not everyone uses the phrase “a bit of an attitude” – see? (Refer to #2 on the rubric, about concealing your identity.)
The writer successfully pretends that he or she was very interested in the class.(worth 20 points)
This is essential. Nothing speaks more about bad teaching than a teacher who completely ruined and destroyed a student’s genuine enthusiasm for a course. I was so excited to take this class because I love reading Shakespeare. But this professor ruined me forever for English lit. I swear I now suffer PTSD when I open any book at all. Just don’t take this one too far, or you’ll give yourself away. Nobody will believe that you were excited about English 101 or Intro to Physics.
The writer successfully and regularly uses slang and emoticons to express ideas that can also be better and perhaps more simply expressed in actual words.(worth 5 points)
Show that you know and understand your audience. UGH!!!! He’s horrible!!!!!! ☹ ☹ ☹
The writer reveals information selectively. (worth 5 points)
Mention several times that the professor was not helpful to you. So unhelpful – she doesn’t even care about her students and wants us all to fail. Do not mention that you only came to class every other week, and that when you did approach the professor for help the week of finals, she did not know who you were.
The writer clarifies that no student can realistically achieve an A in this class. (worth 10 points)
It’s true, right? You didn’t take a survey or anything, but nobody who sat in the back row with you got an A, so you know for a fact that the prof doesn’t give them out. The kid with the glasses, who sat in the front and wears Old Navy probably did, but he’s a geek anyway. He’s wearing Old Navy.
The writer suggests that the professor should retire. (worth 10 points)
That’ll really burn them up.
Susan Muaddi Darraj is a college English professor who genuinely loves her students (well, 99.5% of them). Her book, A Curious Land, won the AWP Grace Paley Award for Short Fiction (University of Massachusetts Press, October 2015). She is proud to have two separate RateMyProfessor ratings because students cannot seem to spell her last name.