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Still Happy When They Get Home

Whenever I need to do some serious clothes shopping, I do not scour malls for hours trying my luck in finding something that will look good on me at a reasonable price. Instead, I visit a small, privately owned clothing store in Brooklyn, not too far away from where my family lives. When I come in, the salesman invariably asks me what I am shopping for, what I do for a living, and where I live. Then he immediately proceeds to give me clothing samples to try on. The owner hand-selects all these samples by visiting the suppliers, with whom he’s been doing business for year. Usually, our conversation proceeds as follows: “Try this one. … No. Now try this one. Let me give you a larger size… No. Try this one. And this one you will buy! But in a different color. This color does not work for you… Yes, now you look great in it! … You must also get this new shirt we have just received–it’ll work wonderfully with this setup.” I know that I can trust the salesman’s taste, and I have never been disappointed. If you need to buy clothes and happen to be in Brooklyn, I highly recommend giving this store a try.

Then we bargain for a price, which is an experience in and of itself. We go back and forth, and oftentimes I surprise myself when I end up buying additional items to get a better average price. During a recent visit, the salesman shared a piece of wisdom with me that got me thinking. He told me: “Now you are happy because you got these new clothes that look great on you. However, what is important for me is that you are still happy when you get home. Then, you’ll see how you look in the new clothes, and you will also look at your receipt. If you are still happy after that, we both won. You will do business with me again and will recommend me to your friends.”

I immediately thought about our alums. Recently I was fortunate to talk to several alums of our program, who all were pursuing highly rewarding IT careers. What surprised me is that all of them felt very happy about the quality of education they received at Virginia Tech. They thought that what they have learned was valuable and pragmatic. They felt that their education left them well-prepared for the challenges of the workplace. Almost all of them thanked me for the positive influence my teaching and mentoring has had on their professional careers. Their experiences in the real world and the time passed have allowed them to reflect on their educational experiences and left them happy with the results. In other words, they were still happy when they got home.

I think this kind of feedback from alums is much more informative than the end-of-semester teaching evaluations. I find these evaluations almost useless, as they tend to reflect the outliers in student opinions, particularly in introductory courses, in which many students are still transitioning from high school to college. An opinion without the benefit of reflection cannot be very informative. At the same time, in teaching evaluation, we focus exclusively on these “on the spot” student evaluations, and never take into serious consideration the input from our alumni. I wonder if there is a way to diversify the teaching evaluation process to give our alums an avenue to express their opinions, informed by at least a couple of years of professional experience and reflection.

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Categories: careers, teaching
  1. Siddharth Krishnan
    June 30, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Beautiful article!! This is the hallmark of a true educator! The analogy was brilliant. I was thinking to myself, where is he going with this, but a wonderful and almost philosophical finish! Proud to be your student!

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