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Friday, May 30, 2008

Professors as Teachers

In my post yesterday, I pointed out that economists are not trained in pedagogy. But I’ve also been thinking about the fact that most college professors, regardless of field, don’t really get any training in teaching. I wonder if college students are aware of that. It’s actually really weird when you think about it, given that we all know from the first day of grad school that if we want to go into academia, teaching will be part of the job. And yet, most graduate programs (at least in economics) don’t talk much about it. Fortunately, at most schools, teaching assistantships are one of the few sources of department funding so many grad students do get some experience teaching, and I think many departments have at least some kind of orientation or maybe a one-day training session to make sure their TAs aren’t completely inept. But that’s about it.* Students who are interested in teaching, and new faculty in general, are mostly left to develop their teaching skills on their own. Sure, there are resources out there – most campuses have some sort of Center for Teaching and Learning, and many disciplines have their own types of support (like economists have the Journal of Economic Education and the tch-econ email list) – but it’s up to individual professors to seek out those resources. That requires either a deep interest in teaching to begin with, or an acknowledgment that you need help, which often only comes after both a) consistently bad evaluations from students and b) prodding from your department to improve. I just wonder if it would make any difference if graduate programs offered (or even required!) classes to prepare students to be better teachers…

* I should note that there are a few stellar exceptions, such as the teaching seminar at Indiana University.

Read more: Where is the demand for good teachers?

3 comments:

  1. Yes, I think more training at the graduate level would be helpful, but this is not likely to happen until employers (institutions) demand that graduates demonstrate strong teaching skills in order to be hired on the tenure track.

    I've been disappointed in my own institution, which claims excellence in teaching as the highest priority for its faculty, for allowing student evaluations to drive review of faculty teaching. For a primarily teaching college, we have yet to develop a culture of visiting one another's classes or even of sustained conversations on teaching. We let students tell us which are the good teachers and then take their word for it.

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  2. A great segue for a follow-up post I'm working on - hope to get that up by tomorrow...

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  3. I liked your post so much that I simply wrote about it on my new blog: http://issuesinacademics.blogspot.com/2008/08/issue-teaching-in-academia.html --> without even asking you about it! I am sorry if that offended you but I felt that you spoke about a very pertinent problem in the profession. I have another blog at http://roomynaqvy.blogspot.com and I'm an academic from India.

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