Asking a young and inexperienced person to judge the job of someone with much more education and practice is one of the more futile things we do in education. Why would we ask a novice violinist to evaluate a composer's score? Why would we ask a seven-year-old to offer "feedback" on parenting skills? While some basic information may be elicited by such queries, there is no nuance to the commentary or broader context to what "good" or "bad" may be. Student evaluations are an exercise in the appearance of due diligence, to be able to say we heard from all parties and have a reasonable glimpse into the environment of a classroom. This is almost always an enormous waste of time and completely unhelpful. When I was in college, I always bubbled a straight line down the page, without reading the descriptions, of the circles marked "3--average" regardless of the teacher or my grade. I did not care at all about my teachers, and I couldn't comprehend why they would possibly care what I had to say. And I was an excellent student who was actually preparing to become a teacher. If any student's feedback would have been useful, it would have been mine. But it didn't bring anything out of me, other than rage for keeping me in class on the final day ten minutes longer than I wanted to be there. Evaluating a teacher didn't make any sense then, and it still doesn't today.
If you are (or were) like me, you probably have read comments such as "The professor does a great job of providing all the information we need and is detailed in his explanations of projects," as well as "The professor is vague about course requirements and assignments are confusing." These contradictory statements are likely to occur in the same class. The same is often true for "The professor challenges us and makes me want to learn more," along with "The professor is too hard and makes me want to drop the class." Again, usually found in the same course. And with near certainty, the former in each example is often written by A/B students and the latter by D/F students.
One semester as an adjunct, after receiving a few harsh reviews for being too tough (read: actually having standards and expecting students to follow directions) and having a chat with my department chair about improving my rapport with classes, I decided to try an experiment. The next semester, I was completely relaxed in all my courses. I never rebuked students for late work, I never challenged students' ideas in class discussions (no matter how illogical or uninformed), and I never put red pen corrections on student papers. I smiled and joked and created a casual and welcoming environment. Every day was positive and upbeat, and every graded paper was full of encouraging language. At the end of the semester, I felt like I hadn't taught very well, but I believed students would have much kinder responses due to the changes I made.
The result? I had exactly the same number of positive reviews and critical reviews as I had with my previous, more disciplined, style of teaching. So what does this tell us? Students will write whatever they want, regardless of the teacher. If they do well, they will likely be positive. If they get a bad grade, they will likely blame the professor. So I went back to my old way of teaching, realizing that if students don't like me, at least I'm going to push them to learn and maintain high standards while I have them. And if I get fired for doing what is right, no problem. Thankfully, it's never come to that.
I believe my job as a teacher is to do whatever possible to help students not only to grasp the information they need from the course, but more importantly, to inspire them to perform at their highest potential, to reach beyond what they thought they could do and achieve a standard of performance that makes them, and me, proud of what we've done together. If students don't recognize that in my day-to-day interactions with them, they likely won't until they've long left school, encountered the difficulties of the real world, and realized how much I was helping them all those years ago. That epiphany cannot be found on a bubble sheet. And if that epiphany is never reached, then whatever they write in an evaluation probably won't be worth much anyway.