81 Days to Zero: The Students (Part II)

In my three years at the University, each new semester began with a surge in my anxiety levels. I would begin to worry about the Students in my courses: What will they be like? Will they be the cause of unwanted classroom disruptions? How will I manage these students? With approximately 75 students per semester, these worries were, in my mind, very real, and would subside only after the first weeks of the semester had passed, when I had gotten to know my Students better.

At the end of a semester, I would grow anxious, once again, when my student course evaluations arrived in my email inbox and in hard copy in my department mailbox. I rarely opened them immediately. Fearing an onslaught of student criticism, I always allowed some time to pass before I felt ready to read them.

Throughout a semester, in-class conduct and quality of work revealed a student’s level of enthusiasm about my courses and his or her thoughts about my teaching style and about me as the course professor. The anonymous student comments on evaluations spoke great volumes, too, sometimes expressing students’ real thoughts to me for the first time. Mostly, the feedback was positive and helpful. And yet, those mean and unconstructive remarks were felt more than any others.

Now that my time at the University has ended, I remember that I have a choice: I can choose to focus on the Students behind the negative remarks and whose names I will never know, or to cherish those whose bright eyes and warm smiles communicated to me their enthusiasm for my courses and instruction and whose names I will never forget. As I reflect upon my time in academia, it is obvious to me that I will always choose the latter, and that I dedicate my academic career to these students, not just because their names will never be forgotten but also because their faces filled my heart with joy and laughter, allayed my fears in the classroom, showed compassion and patience when I needed it, and moved me to tears in private at the thought of an ended relationship between them and me.

(Note: The students photographed below participated in this project voluntarily and are NOT associated with the comments in italics. The italicized comments are selections taken from my course evaluations during my three years at the University, and have been reproduced EXACTLY as written by students. Each is followed by the course title and number.)

She takes language class very seriously and expects a lot out of us. (Ital 101)

I wish another professor was teaching Italian 102 so that I could have a different teaching style and a chance at actualyl learning the material. (Ital 101)

Professor Calabrese speaks in Italian most of the time which I find very counter productive seeing as this is a 101 course and none of us understand what she is saying. (Ital 101)

I skip this class whenever possible because its so terrible. I actually really enjoy this material but cannot bear to sit in there and listen to her teach it THAT badly. (MRST 200)

Yes, but I choose to remember David, Anthony, Corey, Je’Quan, Daulton, Jackson, Katherine, Paige B, Paige D, Jonathan, Emily, Jordan Z, Lindsey, Katie…

This class is way too hard. This class is harder than some of the 300 level classes I have taken. The course moves way too fast for a foreign language. The work required for this class is too much for a 100 level class. (Ital 101)

Professor Calabrese puts more of the learning on the individual student rather than her teach the subject matter. Her class is taught like a highschool level class with graduate level standards. Everyday she flys through the lesson on grammer or vocab or what have you in a rush to achieve everything she has on her agenda for the day not realizing that the swift lesson structure for learning a foreign language is no way to teach knowledge of a foreign language. The reading assignments she gives out are difficult to understand because she does not teach the lesson the day she gives it out. She expects the student to understand the lesson by the time of the next class and has discussions about it rather than have repeditive examples that would probably sink in with the students a little more. (Ital 102)

But, then, I remember Samantha, Corey, Tammy, Theresa, Lora, Vito, Mason, Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca…

I honestly don’t like this professor at all as a person. She has a pretty rude personality, and almost seems to be making fun of students who fall behind in her class. She has a really slyly demeaning manner to her which is frustrating and makes people not want to participate. However, I can’t say she is a bad teacher. She’s actually really good at her job and gives students a plethora of opportunities to go above and beyond and to make a good grade. (Ital 101)

Not to say that they weren’t helpful at all, but some of the class activities – they felt like the students were not being creative and were simply following the model and not putting much thought/effort in them. (Ital 101)

Yes, but, I remember Jordan M, Nathan, Thomas, Steven F, Steven W, Matt, Catherine, Alexis, Megan, Nate, Zach, Henry…

She doesn’t make it interesting. I came into Italian 101 with high hopes that Italian would really fun to learn, but by the end of it, I was dreading having to take 102. Huge letdown. (Ital 102)

Not really a bad class. Lost interest midway through unfortunately. Trying another language. (Ital 101)

I understand the course is to be spoken in solely Italian but a little more English would help explain more things to students who struggle with the listening portion to Italian. (Ital 202)

Doesn’t seem like she actually wants students to succeed. (Ital 102)

It is not surprising to me at all that a lot of people dropped the coarse because of how hard it is for being a 102 language course. (Ital 102)

But, I will remember Riccardo, Joan, Julie, Conner, Alex, Michael, Stephen, Kendall, Riane, Maggie, Cody…

I started Italian this fall with Calabrese with the hopes of taking 2 solid years of Italian and then going abroad to Italy. I noticed that she had weird teaching habits last semester, but hoped they would be different in the 102 level, but they got even weirder. Having taken 2 languages in high school, I figured she would follow the basic steps for a new language. Instead, she covered the most random subjects at awkward times. It doesn’t help that she uses a terrible textbook. The book itself is cluttered with nonsense fluff that does not help advance the language skills of the reader. I get frustrated every day trying to use it for my homework. ****If anything good comes from these IDEAs please let it be that she can’t use that book ever again.**** […] you have to flip like ten pages just to get to to a verb sheet and then another 8 pages of random exercises about something you’ve already learned about to get to the next tense. I really expect better from a college level professor and book, and it makes me feel a child. it’s a MWF class that last 50 minutes each day, 20 minutes of which are spent watching some poorly filmed 2000’s, Italian N’SYNC themed soap opera that barely helps us understand the course material. After that sardonic display of filmanship, she rattles out the an italian tense and then dismisses us, ill prepared for the test the very next class. Her quizzes are randomly spaced and only require 10 words to be memorized. (remember what i said about feeling like a child?). (Ital 102)

But again, I choose to remember Ashley C, Julia, Ashley K, Emily, James, Erin, Daniel, Alexis, Nick…

Professor Calabrese is an excellent instructor and overall this was a good class. My only complaint is that it seems at instances she gets a snooty attitude; for example, if a student asks something that was in the syllabus and they forgot, she answers ‘well, that is already in the syllabus and you need to review it’, instead of just saying what it was. (Ital 102)

Too much grammar focus for a 202 course > I would have preferred to learn through the movie + through just speaking. Too many compositions > they do help my writing but the topics were silly + irrelevant + they piled up. Stop assigning non-graded hw outside of class – no one does it b/c if its not graded we’re going to do graded work for other classes. (Ital 202)

But I choose to remember Giuliana, Janai, Carie, Sarah B, Natalie P, Natalie H, Joe, Marina, Madi…

Teaching the class speaking mostly in Italian makes sense but didn’t work for me. Got annoyed by it mid semester. (Ital 101)

I do not think students should be required to take three semesters of a second language. (Ital 102)

We watched some pretty boring movies. The Conformist? What was that? (MLAN 207)

I feel as if us students were cheated out of an interesting, well-taught course. This course should HAVE been taught by a History Professor, and NOT an Italian Professor! As a student who works hard, does the assignments, and takes notes, I was disappointed with the quality of the class and how hard everyone was struggling just to scrape together B’s. 1/3 of the students in the class ended up either pass/failing or withdrawing entirely from the course. (MRST 200)

But I will always remember Jackie, Christian, Emily-Grace, Lydia, Jacob, Claire, Alex, Zachary, Jillian, Eric…

(This post is published in conjunction with 81 Days to Zero: The University (Part I). I invite you to read the first part here.)

Written and photographed by Filomena Calabrese.


8 responses to “81 Days to Zero: The Students (Part II)

  1. I really enjoyed this post! Brava Filomena! And yes, why why why do we focus on the negative comments when there are tons of great positive comments?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was a great article! I know Riane and I loved being able to be a part of it and I can honestly say that I loved taking Italian with you as a professor! We will miss you next semester!


    • The sentiments are the same for me, Maggie. You were – and always will be – a truly wonderful student! Thank you for being a part of this project. Thank you for being you.


  3. This post really struck a cord in me. It made me go through all of these reactions. At first I was really angered and incensed at how students could be so hurtful. Their comments more personally destructive than constructive. One really has to be made of steel to not be affected by them and to want to take them personally. I would cry. I did cry, for you, for me and for all the instructors out there who put so much effort and love and energy into teaching only to be put down by some anonymous posts. But after I cried, I went back to the beginning of your post and that sea of comments just started becoming blurry and all I saw were the smiles on all the students’ faces in the pictures you took. It made me realize that, yes, while there are some negative comments, that’s just background noise and soon enough gets lost if we make an effort to focus on the positive and all the wonderful students who actually enjoyed us as a teacher and person. It’s so easy to forget to see the positive. It seems that it’s easier for students to write something negative than go out of their way to write something positive. So many only write when they want to vent. If they’re content, they don’t comment. Why can’t we all reach out more easily and say thank you, give a compliment and smile? You know, I was still pretty angry when starting to write this post, but you’re right, we should just leave the bad behind and keep the good. I feel better. Thank you, Filo. I really enjoyed this post.


    • Thank you for your comments and reflection! I’m happy that the piece elicited a reaction in you, and that it helped you feel less alone in your thoughts about student evaluations. I hope that, in the future, the student faces in this post help you to overcome the negative comments, always.


  4. In the spirit of this wonderfully brave post, I thought I’d share the following gem from my most recent round of comments:

    “I could have saved a lot of money by looking all of this information up on wikipedia. It’s all there. Thanks again USF for wasting my time and robbing me of hard earned money.”

    The candid pictures accompanying this post are all wonderful too. I wish I had this kind of talent. Thanks again for your honesty.


    • Thank YOU for your honesty, Brendan! It takes courage to share the mean things students say about our courses, but it’s quite cathartic once we choose to do so.


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