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Friday, August 1, 2008

Can you teach well without thinking about it?

This is sort of old news by now but the TIAA-CREF Institute released a study a few weeks ago that reports the results of a survey of new professors (within the first five years on the job). The answers that seemed to get the most attention were those about how prepared these individuals felt (or didn't feel) coming out of grad school; for example, the Chronicle highlights the finding that only about 30 percent of respondents felt their graduate educations effectively prepared them to teach undergrads or conduct research and only about 10 percent felt prepared for other job responsibilities like advising or committee work. Inside Higher Ed points out the confidence gap between men and women but also reports some of the differences in how much time men and women spend on household responsibilities.

Since I've already written about how I think professors are not trained as teachers, I won't add to that chorus again now. Instead, I wanted to point out one thing I saw in the survey results that I thought particularly odd. Even after some time on the job, when 76 percent say that they are working 'very effectively' at teaching undergraduates, only 61 percent can articulate their teaching philosophy (and only 54 percent feel effective at teaching with technology). These numbers were at 31 and 19 (20 for the technology question) when asked how they felt just after grad school so there is vast improvement on the job, but what I want to know is what's going on with the 15 percent who say they are teaching effectively but can't articulate their teaching philosophy*? I should point out that the survey was of professors at mid-size private Carnegie Masters institutions, which are generally more teaching-oriented, so it's not like these are schools where professors would not be expected to care about teaching. That just makes it seem all the more odd. If you haven't given some conscious thought to why you are doing what you're doing in the classroom, how can you really say that what you are doing is effective?
* When I say 15 percent, I am assuming that the 61 percent who can articulate their teaching philosophy are all part of the group that believe they are teaching effectively; of course, if there are some who are not in the latter group, that means there are even more who believe they are very effective at teaching but cannot articulate their teaching philosophy.

Related posts:
Where is the demand for better teachers?
Professors as teachers
Economists are not taught pedagogy


  1. Oddly enough, I'd been teaching for 17 years before anyone even asked me to articulate my teaching philosophy. So I guess I'm not too surprised that even people who think they're doing a decent job might find it difficult to do this.

  2. What doc said was what my comment was going to be. One can care about one's teaching and do a lot of thinking about it without articulating a philosophy. Indeed, as I've read lots of applications for teaching positions, I've wondered about the grandeous teaching philosophies of entry level teachers who've had little or no teaching experience. I'm not trying to demean the notion of a teaching philosophy, but to paraphrase a wise colleague, you can learn a lot more about a person's teaching philosophy from reading their blog, than the statement on their cv.


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