Training Professors to be Educators

Training Professors to be Educators

The Atlantic had an interesting article entitled The Forgotten Student: Has Higher Education Stiffed its Most Important Client? which parallels a  recent Op-Ed in the NYTimes  on why one former executive left Goldman Sachs because they lost sight of their client. I remember reading the NYTimes Op-Ed over breakfast and I thought to myself, “I really wouldn’t want to work in a place that wasn’t looking out for the best interests of their client.” After reading the article in The Atlantic, I think the veil has been completely lifted from my eyes. I guess I should explain that.

This is not to say that everything in the article was totally foreign for me and that I have never thought about some of those things. However, I never really thought of it from the view that administrators might be failing their clients. For example, there’s discussions here and here on college endowments and how university presidents spend most of their time raising money. But to what end? SnowU has a, to me, large endowment but we are ever trying to increase it. However, I have no idea what they’re using it for. But that’s only part of the challengeproblem.

I think the more fundamental issue is that young faculty such as myself have been sold on going into academia for research. I’ve discussed previously here and here how most STEM fields operate one a 50/30/20 (Research/Teaching/Service) basis. That’s basically what I’ve always been told. But when I was a new student, or rather more importantly, when I was a high school student, no one told me that professors at college performed research as their main function. So I do think there are at least some shades of grey there.

There is one aspect of the article that isn’t exactly adequately portrayed. With the exception of rockstar research professors, the rest of us will only be as good as the graduate students that we can recruit into our research groups. Often, the best connection is made in the classroom. I think professors that can reach students in the classroom will be more successful at attracting and mentoring students. (That’s not to say they would be great researchers because there are plenty of gifted teachers who are terrible at research…).

More importantly, I think that universities realize that they have an obligation to their students to provide services and training for faculty members. SnowU has extensive programs for monitoring lectures, programs for learning different teaching methods, and so on. I would say I get at least 1.5 emails per week detailing some new program or lecture on improving teaching performance in the classroom. They all sound like fantastic opportunities and many of them I would imagine are very helpful. I’m speaking about them speculatively because I haven’t actually gone to any of them because frankly I don’t have time. One more hour spent on that is an hour less writing a proposal or paper or performing experiments or mentoring students. As a young tenure track faculty member, my success will mostly be measured by my research and output, not by my teaching. They’re definitely providing opportunities to be a better teacher, but unless the metrics for tenure change, few will take advantage of the those opportunities because they don’t have the time. I certainly don’t.


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Your last paragraph struck a chord. I don’t mean to offend you by saying this, but you’re failing your students by not taking advantage of the programs/lectures provided to you. Universities often make the assumption that because a person has completed a certain level of education in a chosen major, they can teach. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. Very few people are natural born teachers. Universities/professors often forget that their primary function is education. If you (or any other professor) chooses to not to take that part of the job seriously, please find a different profession.

I’m not saying that I’m a gifted teacher, and I do recognize that the workshops may help. But my rating for teaching results was very high and it’s actually higher than my rating for research in my last review.

A couple of years back, my university had a faculty workshop on time management. I pointed out that only those who didn’t need it would be able to go. I don’t think very many people showed up, and I don’t think they repeated that workshop.

Teacher training workshops for faculty vary from good mentoring from faculty who are superb teachers to absolutely ludicrous suggestions for how to teach a class by people incapable of teaching. Most often they are good classes only for people in a similar discipline to that of the person doing the workshop. The things that most faculty need to know are very discipline specific, and not easily generalized to different disciplines. For example, computer science faculty need to know how much to give as general rules, how much in worked examples, and how much in exercises for the students to work out. They need to know strategies and metaphors that work for teaching topics they find easy, but that students have trouble with (like recursion). They do not need to know much about how to moderate racially charged discussions of political literature.

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