I never saw it coming. My students and I had just shared a splendid semester-long educational experience. I had deftly mixed original readings, engaging class discussions, illuminating lectures, and thoughtful assessments with a community-based project that gave students the opportunity to apply course concepts in a real-world setting. Or had I? You would think that, after some 30 years of opening packets of students’ evaluations at the semester’s end (and now, downloading them from the University’s evil evaluation website), that the thrill would be gone—no more disappointment, elation, or surprise.

Not so.

My course was a required one, populated with students who picked the section and not the professor, and so I had grown used to evaluations in the low 4s on the so-typical 5-point scale. But I was not expecting the sting of an evaluation that was so far below the comfortable teaching plateau to which I had grown accustomed. Not a 4.2, but a 3.2. And a set of critical comments about my overall worth expressed with far more eloquence than their exam essays suggested was possible. Circuitous, operose, apodictic, importunate, and unremittingly opaque; where had they suddenly acquired this level of proficiency with invectives?

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Copyright © 2012 Society of Personality and Social Psychology. This article first appeared on Society of Personality and Social Psychology Connections (2012).

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