Carnegie I've heard Ph.D.s say that we should, before interpreting market research data, throw out the top and the bottom comments.

Throw them out? Why simply discard data?

The reason: there are some people who love everything and there are some people who hate everything. They are outliers and their data is little more than distracting.

So throw them out.

I find it easier to throw out the favorable comments than the negative. Especially when the research is on the topic of my own performance.

I Have My Critics
During the past 12 months, I taught nearly 300 students in four graduate and undergraduate classes at two universities and a college.

At the end of each semester (or quarter), the students are polled by the institution. It is an official check on the otherwise remarkable freedom teachers in higher education are given. Unless the students march on the provost's office in disgust (or appreciation), this polling is the only official way for administrators to assess the performance of the teacher and the content of the class.

I receive my batch of student responses after grades are submitted. They are always anonymous. (In the old days, I could recognize a few for their handwriting, but now everything is submitted electronically.)

Usually, I read them — show them to my family — and then discard them.

Last night, I received this batch from my spring class of students at Ohio State. If you read them all, you'll see very dear, very appreciative comments. My heart swells when reading them.

Not All Roses
Lest you think this also swells my head, one of them stood out because it is negative.

More than negative, however. It is more like a kidney punch. In its entirety:

"He is by far the worst teacher i have had at ohio state, and probably
one of the worst people i've met. I have never met such a self
centered individual who thinks there is only one way to do things and
it's his way. I took the class when Michael Camp recommended it and i
had high expectations going into it, and they were totally unmet. The
subject matter of the course was uncalled for. I do not care what
Artie's sex life is, and i could care less that he doesn't have a TV,
or that his kids should never be better than anyone else, because that
seems to send one of the worst messages possible, settle for less…way
to go artie. I also happen to think that it is entirely wrong for his
wife to grade our papers, and he said it himself that she did. He's
the most off the wall person I've met, and i wasted a lot of time in
his class."

My first thoughts were, in order:

1. Ouch. I could feel "ouch."
2. Are there other comments that are negative? No. Good.
3. Do I have any idea who this is? No. Good, I guess.
4. Let me reread this.
5. Wow. These are words of anger.
6. Wait a minute. I'm "one of the worst people" this student has ever met? I don't think I've ever heard that from anyone. 
7. Overall, this makes me sad. But what can I learn from it?
8. Let me reread the positive comments.

Then, I went to bed thinking about this negative comment.

A quick note about my wife: With her M.B.A. from Columbia, her B.S. in industrial management from Purdue, and her brand new master's degree in nursing from Ohio State, Alisa has been my T.A. for grading for nearly two decades. She is wonderfully able to discern degrees of quality. She grades more precisely and more objectively than I do. We debate individual grades. I'm still responsible for the results.

A quick note about my kids: I've said that my children don't automatically deserve advantages that other children don't get — and that having these advantages (the luck of birth, of affluence) isn't necessarily good for them. (I'll explore this on another day.)

A quick note about my sex life: I refer to all aspects of the human condition, like I do here on Net Cotton Content. I'm more constrained in class than I am here.

I'm one of the worst people this person has ever met?

Why So Nasty?
These days, many people start any argument nastily. That's where they start. They start nasty.

They hear such immediate nastiness in various media. Their role models start nasty.

How sad.

Mind Your Backpack
When I started college-level teaching — it was in the School of Journalism at Ohio State in the mid-1990s — I shared an office with other adjunct instructors. I never met them (because we passed like ships in the night), but one had placed a single student assessment on the otherwise empty bulletin board over the shared desk.

The anonymous assessment was little more than this comment: "This teacher is so absurd and ill-suited to teach. Someone should tell him to wear his backpack with only one strap over one shoulder, rather than both straps over both shoulders."

I'm not kidding.

And I always think of this when I put my backpack on!

Why I Never Throw Out The Nastiest Assessment
Perhaps the appearance of someone who detests me and my teaching is a sign that I was heard and that I took chances.

And, though I want to be liked, my primary purpose as a teacher is not to win friends. My primary purpose is to teach.

A teacher (on the subject of Israel's relationship with European nations) once said that Dale Carnegie's famous title — How To Win Friends And Influence People — should have been slightly different: How To Win Friends Or Influence People.

Because, alas, you can't have it both way.

I guess I do really hope that I'm one of the worst people you ever meet. I'll try to bring up the rear with dignity.

P.S. Don't forget to read the positive comments, too!