Does Rate My Teacher Have Any Value?

Does the controversial website “Rate My Teacher” have any value?

Basically, the site allows students to post reviews of teachers based on easiness, helpfulness, clarity, and popularity.

In addition, students can post comments about teachers that are within the site guidelines. For example, comments related to personal or family life, appearance, looks or personal hygiene are banned. In addition, comments centered around race or sex are also moderated.

As we all know, ratings and reviews for sites like Amazon.com and Rotten Tomatoes are most helpful. However, do ratings serve any purpose in the educational setting?

First of all, ratings sites do affect which courses students choose. If a teacher has a reputation as an easy marker students will flock to their courses. Of course, students have long shared information about “easy markers” and Rate My Teachers has simply made this information more public and easier to access.

I’ve never met a teacher who has actually changed their teaching style based on comments on the website. The reason is that most of the comments are actually directed towards personality traits rather than constructive criticism.

For example, this would be a typical comment on the website:

“she’s fair, but the way she treats people makes her seem like a rude person.”

As you can see the comment is mostly centered around this teachers’ personality.In addition, most comments are only one or two lines. By contrast, an Amazon book review could be several paragraphs. In addition, Amazon users have an ability to check the other reviews made by the same person to ensure that their objectivity has not been clouded.

Unfortunately, most teachers do not have a web presence meaning that Google searches for their name often lead to the Rate My Teacher rating. For example, let’s say you’re at a cocktail party and meet someone. They run a Google search for your name and see some nasty remarks written by students as the first or second search results. One would hope that people would dismiss such comments but that is often not the case. The ratings can and do affect your overall reputation in the community.

Despite the fact that the site has limited usefulness, teachers have tried to ban the site.  In 2003, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) sought a court injunction to shut down the site, though the request was denied on free speech grounds.

Please visit the Canadian Teacher Forum and chime in on the issue. What has been your personal experience with teacher rating websites?