Is this Lashon Hara?

images-2.jpegThis post is about a new website and a dilemma concerning its content. As a teacher this is something I feel quite strongly about.

At the end of January, a private company set up the website note2be. The idea is for pupils and high school students to rate their teachers. On this site, the students are asked to assess us according to 6 criteria.

Is the teacher:

– interesting

– clear

– always ready to help out

– fair

– respected by his/her students

– motivated?

When you look for a school and open its page, the names of the teachers concerned appear in alphabetical order with their average ratings.

The idea behind the site, according to its creators , is to help the teachers in their teaching practise, the way students are helped by the marks they get for their work.

I find this site and its concept appalling. I can see at least three reasons for this. First the teachers are rated anonymously. In fact they may even have been assessed by students who have left the school. How is this going to help them improve their practise if they are rated by someone who has not seen them for some time? A young teacher might have changed a great deal in only a few years. Then you get an average whether you have been rated by a single student or a whole class. Anybody with even a poor knowledge of maths knows that one mark (or even a few) does not constitute an average. Another thing that bothers me is that the results are public. My students’ results are never made public. Only they and their parents have access to them. Dont get me wrong; I acknowledge that a teacher needs to be assessed but not this way.

However this is not what has led me to write about this site but what I read online when I visited last night. In our school, 25 teachers have been rated so far. The results are mixed, which is not surprising. Some teachers are popular, some not quite so. What pained me is that the name of two collegues came up with poor ratings attached to their names. Although I don’t know them all that well, I happen to know, like most of my collegues, that both lead difficult lives. One of them has a severely handicapped son who is critically ill and whose life expectancy is very short. As for the other one, she is a widow whose only son committed suicide in the summer of 2006. I understand that they can’t always be cheerful and available to their students. On the other hand they are earnest teachers who take their jobs seriously.

As one who has been made aware of the laws of lashon hara by the teachings of rabi Telushkin, I feel quite upset by the whole thing and find it very unfair that these two people should have been given such poor marks. I have been very uncomfortable since I visited the site and have not stopped wondering if there is anything that should be done about it? What do you think?

One thought on “Is this Lashon Hara?

  1. I, too, find such sites appalling. (I haven’t followed your link to this one in particular, but I’ve seen others.) Giving constructive feedback is important — but this isn’t that. As you noted, that the site is public and does not restrict who can rate is problematic; it ensures that the site is about the spectacle rather than about doing good.

    I feel bad for the two teachers you mention. I would not want to see them receive misleadingly-high ratings (“A for effort”); if they *are* having problems that affect their performance, their institution deserves to know that. But, again, privately — not out in front of the world. The point, if an assessment is done at all, should be an honest assessment; the assessor can apply mitigating factors, but it would be as wrong to change a “fair” to “good” on account of circumstances as it would be to slam a teacher with an undeserved “poor”. All in my opinion, of course; I’m not a teacher, but as someone who both receives and gives performance reviews, I’ve struggled with these kinds of issues sometimes.

    I guess it boils down to this: sometimes you need to deliver bad news, but it should always be done compassionately, constructively, and privately.

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