Maria Carrillo Spanish teacher James Baptista was disappointed and saddened when he saw what some students would write on the website ratemyteachers.com. Press Democrat photo by Christopher Chung

By SOPHIE FREY
MARIA CARRILLO HIGH SCHOOL
On an early February morning, Spanish teacher James Baptista was writing a recommendation letter for one of his students. He went online to search for Maria Carrillo High School’s phone number and instead came across his name.
Clicking the link, he was sent to the website ratemyteachers.com where he read mortifying accusations — more about his personal life than his teaching methods.
“I felt embarrassed and betrayed because it was not only for me to see but the entire world,” Baptista said. “I felt I had to prove all that stuff wrong.”
Hours later, when classes began, he found himself completely frozen and unable to teach. He suffered from sleepless nights and doubt in his teaching style.
“I wasn’t going to pretend like nothing happened,” he said.
He was afraid to punish students in dread that they would go on the website and add more negative comments. Students that he had always trusted and appreciated appeared as strangers to him.
“I’m open for students expressing their anger toward me” in person, said Baptista, but he was disturbed they talked negatively about him behind his back.
Michael Hussey, creator of ratemyteachers.com, designed the website to attract students and parents to provide feedback of teachers. By rating teachers on their clarity in teaching methods, helpfulness during and after school hours, popularity among students and easiness in lessons, students are able to see what kind of teachers they will have.
As Maria Carrillo High does not allow teacher requests, this website is mainly used to provide information for future students. Ratemyteachers.com is a free website that requires no account information.
As of April 2010, more than 11 million teachers had been graded on the website. Sixty percent of those ratings were positive and 40 percent were negative. Part of the rules and regulations of the website include no judgment of a teacher’s personal or family life, appearance or personal hygiene. Each rating is reviewed by the website two or more days after it is posted and objectionable content is removed. However, in Baptista’s case and many other teachers at Maria Carrillo, this is not true because of inappropriate comments that can be present on the website for weeks.
Although the website promotes freedom of speech, the system lends itself to extreme feedback, which is often negative in nature. Students tend to write negative comments to “get back at” teachers instead of providing valid information. A similar website, ratemyprofessors.com, is used for evaluating university professors.
Ratemyteachers.com was created to provide honest reviews on teacher performances and as a way for students to know exactly what to expect in these classes, but it appears students are abusing these rights.
When math teacher Jan Canfield reviewed the website, she observed it seemed like “a place to vent (where) teachers can get hurt.”
Last year, Maria Carrillo student James Moberg checked the review for his English teacher, Joel Kammer, and saw some awful ratings.
“I was scared because I read that he was hard and gave a lot of work,” Moberg said.
But Moberg said he had no reason for concern.
“He’s the best teacher I ever had,” Moberg said.
He believes most negative reviews are based on individual moments with students and teachers rather than the overall teaching throughout the year.
“It seems like it would be a valuable resource if people were completely honest. Your perspective of your teachers should be of the whole year, not just one situation in class,” said student Erin Netherda, who doesn’t rely on the website.
“Each individual has different experiences with their teachers so you can’t trust the reviews,” said student Kristin Evans.
Baptista’s students were supportive when he told them what he saw, and he’s received notes and letters full of compliments. Baptista finds happiness in teaching and usually feels a profound connection between himself and his students through teaching about a new language and culture.
He has vowed to never go on the website again.
“I’m looking for what’s fun for me in my job now,” he said.
The inappropriate comments have been removed from Baptista’s ratings.