Thursday, December 14, 2006

Teach the Professors...

My biggest beef (by far) is the way higher education abuses adjuncts and adjunct labor.

This is my second biggest beef -- that professors don't know how to teach classes.

I think there are two reasons for this, and they are related.

First, the emphasis on research at elite universities assumes that all new PhDs will spend their time in ivory towers or gleaming labs and not doing the dirty work that pays for that (i.e. teaching). This is because the top people in their field -- who do the graduate education -- do spend most of their time in ivory towers and gleaming labs.

As a result, teaching is extremely devalued on the university level. It simply isn't seen as important or relevant to the work being done in the tower or lab. While the truth of this may vary significantly, teaching can -- and does -- take up time in the work week of the average college professor.

It is also the fact that bad teaching takes more time to do than good teaching. Why?? Because bad teaching creates messes that have to be fixed, complaints you have be answered and is often more work to prepare than good teaching. All of this time is time that could be spent on research, writing or on getting grants.

Finally, bad teaching is emotionally draning and frustrating. Spending even 3 hours per week with a group of hostile post-adolescents who think you are a moron because your teaching sucks can't be good for your mental health. They have ways of dissing you and talking about you behind your back that haven't changed since you were an undergrad.

The simple fact of the matter is that 46% of undergraduates are in two year schools. That means that 46% of professing hours happen there as well. I don't know the percentages at the more teaching oriented colleges and universities -- but the vast majority of students are going to college at schools with a high teaching load. This means that the chances are that any bright, new PhD will end up at one of these places for their careers. Learning to teach is important, if only because it frees you to do other things.

Second, it seems to me that schools or colleges of education within universities are looked down upon as lacking intellectual rigor. Sadly, I tend to agree with the general assessment. The problem with this level of disrespect is that most proessional development on college and university campuses is conducted by schools of education, and by assocition, these seminiars are not taken seriously by the faculty of the university.

I honestly don't know what to do about this problem, except perhaps abolish schools and colleges of education and reformulate them to provide post-BA training. So, someone who wants to teach English in k-12 would major in English and then do a year or two in the post-BA training/student teaching mode. An alternative would be some kind of in-school apprentice program that provides similar training with an experienced k-12 teacher.

I think solving the problem for college instructors is pretty simple... Establish a facilitated peer-mentoring program for the first year of any academic's career. The program would require that the participants meet weekly for 3 hours (or whatever the standard course credit is on the campus). This time is factored into their teaching load and would be mandatory for anybody with less than 5 years independent classroom experience. The facilitator would also have this as part of their teaching load, with the weight given to teaching a graduate course, and would craft a syllabus to cover the basic problems that occur in the classroom. The facilitators would be tenured faculty, not from the college of education.

Academic hiring, at least into full-time positions, is done so far in advance that this could start in the summer and be done electronically. Syllabi could be exchanged etc. The group could meet before the start of the school year and would funciton as a support system for that crucial first year.

The thing is that new professors aren't stupid, mean or wanting to teach badly. They teach badly and are accidentally mean to their TAs and students because they don't know any better. They've never considered basic things like how much information should be on a PowerPoint slide, what would happen if you give a long exam 72 hours before the grade deadline or what would happen to your mental health during finals week if every one of your 200 students is assigned a 5-8 page paper to conclude the semester.


Bardiac said...

I like the idea of mentoring! I think it's also wildly field dependent, though. A lot of humanities grad students teach TONS; they need mentoring as grad students. Science types seem to teach far less, and so will need more mentoring as profs?

Ms.PhD said...

yes, science types have no clue how to teach, insofar as teaching involves assigning exams and TAs to grade them. Myself included. We do a fair amount of public speaking, some of us anyway, so the ones who get jobs generally know how to communicate complicated information clearly. But when to assign a test and how to construct a good exam? No clue. But I've avoided it because I don't think I ever learned anything from taking, or even studying for, an exam. If it were up to me, I would probably throw out the traditional education mechanism for science altogether. Anybody know of a school where I could do that and still have a gleeming lab in a pale-white tower?

Rise said...

I completely agree with what you are saying. Newly recruited teachers need help in learning some basics of teaching and what is expected from them.