Today marked the first day of teaching for me for the Spring semester.

 All weekend I could not drum up enthusiasm for another 16 weeks of teaching, but when I walked into the first class this morning, full of cheerfully anxious students, all of that apathy melted away and I was once again excited to teach. Each section had students eagerly asking questions, grinning at the textbook selection, and exchanging email addresses with one another– the kind of first day I live for.

During my office hours I took an obligatory first day of school self portrait. Today’s is on the right; the one on the left is me, 5 1/2 years ago, as a grad student about to teach my first ever class.

I swear I am not wearing the same thing. Also, I feel like I make the strangest faces in self-portraits. I never know if I should smile, look serious, make duck lips…


So I was feeling all jazzed about a successful first day, and then I made the mistake of looking at Ratemyprofessor.com.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe I was riding that high and wanted to read the praise from my former students, as the reviews are usually complimentary. But then I saw the newest one, one that is so odd and so unsettling that I can’t get it out of my head.

Now, I know that disgruntled students unhappy with a low grade often take it out on an instructor, so I want to point out that this was from a remedial class where the students did not receive grades– only pass or fail, with most of my students passing.

Anyway, this is what the review says:

“decent professor but very annoying. she isn’t horrible but she isn’t great, and she is definitely NOT hot. Take her if all else fails”

Soooo… the part about being annoying doesn’t bother me that much, but the student never says WHY. Notice how the review is very non-committal: decent  but annoying; isn’t horrible but isn’t great. 
What is this student’s point and his/her motivation?

 I understand the students who write comments like This professor doesn’t explain anything and is super hard or this was my favorite professor ever! because those have, like, a point. They’re communicating to future students what they need to know. So the whole not-bad-not-good-meh  stance confuses me. Why take the time and effort to even voice an opinion if you don’t actually have one?

Ah, but he or she clearly does, as I am sure you have noticed:  “[A]nd she is definitely NOT hot.”  Ummmm WTF? If you’re unfamiliar with ratemyprofessor.com, students have the option to add a little chili pepper next to a professor’s name to denote that he/she is “hot.” A previous student had done so, so my guess is that this comment is in response to that.

But why? Why is this the only definitive statement the commentor cares to make? Is this student a male who was feeling grossly disappointed after expecting someone “hot” from previous reviews? A female who feels threatened and wants to cut me down by attacking my looks? A student who thinks that I think I am “hot” and wants me to see that that is definitely not the case? And still…why?

I want to emphasize here that the chili pepper question for professor rankings really, really bothers me. It creeps me out to no end to read that 18 year olds have pegged me as “hot.” No. Ew.
 It’s not only creepy, but incredibly demeaning. In academia, one busts his/her intellectual ass for several years, only to have a public ranking system list you as “hot or not” in an intellectual field? Really?!

And  regardless of my disgust at this “hotness” ranking, and lack of desire to be called “hot” by students, the fact that an anonymous person took the time out of his or her day JUST to declare online that I am NOT hot is incredibly disturbing. Here’s what I keep asking myself:
1. Is that really ALL that he or she got out of a 16 week semester of my class?
2. Did this student spend those weeks analyzing my imperfections to come to this conclusion that he/she needed to share with the world? I get that students are looking at me in class, but how do I not feel extra self-conscious after this?
3. Again, what is this student’s motivation? Is he or she that angry with me or my looks that he/she felt the need to post this? Is this student just boiling with negativity and  also criticizing others behind the mask of anonymity? Does this person need psychiatric help for deeper issues?

I don’t know what to make of the ratemyprofessor.com post, but I do know that I am sickened by the growing trend of cowards who post anonymous, hurtful comments around the internet. I am sad for people who feel that they can only feel better about themselves by doing so, and I hope that they someday get the professional help that they surely need.

And unfortunately for them, I still love teaching.

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