College professors should be judged as teachers, not just researchers

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April 23, 2010

1:30 AM

The College of William and Mary is graced with a nationally heralded school of education that trains aspiring teachers and school administrators in the most effective, cutting-edge teaching methods for our youth. The research, training and recommendations that come out of education schools are then incorporated into state certification and licensing standards for teachers of elementary, middle and secondary school students. So it surprised me to learn that there are no uniform certification requirements for our professors at the College.

Since it is the time for end-of-the-year evaluations maybe we should stop and think about how much the teaching standards or styles of our professors matter to our academic experience.

Like me, I’m sure many of you have had disparate experiences with regard to the quality of teaching at the College. I’ve had professors that have made potentially uninteresting GER courses some of my most enjoyable academic experiences, but I’ve also had professors within my majors that have taken a subject of dear interest to me and made it painstakingly boring, or have inadequately presented material in which they themselves are decorated scholars. Basic flaws such as not allowing enough time for class presentations, poorly organizing group projects, and not connecting readings to lecture material have all inhibited my classroom experiences. These are all factors that could be addressed by a short certification or training process prior to becoming a professor at the College.

Many will argue that teaching is a poor excuse for doing and that, therefore, a professor’s research is his or her main priority. I would argue that teaching is a profession in and of itself and that professors have the dual roles of being both pre-eminent researchers and effective classroom facilitators. Both of my parents are teachers, and they have participated in a number of teaching conferences, workshops and accreditations for their various elementary, middle and high schools they have worked at. Why, then, at the pinnacle of our education, are there the fewest teaching standards for our mentors? Over 90 percent of our professors have terminal degrees, and many have published renowned literature in their fields, but they are at an institution of higher learning, not a think tank or closed circle of researchers.

Another argument is that college students, specifically those at the College of William and Mary, are less likely than students at other levels to need sophisticated, personalized techniques to facilitate learning. I would argue that at any level, of education an organized, engaging teacher or professor enhances the learning experience — either through interest in the field or simply by adding to general knowledge. Furthermore, because of the College’s stringent GER standards, professors are constantly teaching to an audience of students not at all versed in the field. If a student is not significantly drawn to the material beforehand, then proper teaching is one of the few things that can make the experience worthwhile as a foray into liberal arts study.

Others still might point out that the issue of quality teaching is already addressed within the College. Students fill out the aforementioned evaluation forms every semester that specifically address teaching methods, and various departments have specific standards for professor quality evaluation. These surveys, however, are primarily used to determine promotion and tenure, not as preemptive measures. In addition, the Charles Center does provide the New Faculty Orientation Program as well as the University Teaching Project, ostensibly to assist professors with institutional settings, scholarship resources and classroom innovation. Yet a perusal of these programs suggests that the University Teaching Project is very small-scale — 25 to 30 professors participated — and the New Faculty Orientation Program is more about professional networking than classroom training.

What I am suggesting is that, sometime before a professor’s first year at the College, a paid training session on the basic teaching concepts be provided. Expanding the orientation concept in this way isn’t a radical suggestion, considering professors could certainly be given extra compensation. It would also offer a way to connect the school of education with other departments and disciplines.
The College needs to change the way it views teaching. It is not simply a part of being a professor, done only during spare time away from research, but a craft unto itself that affects the quality of education that all students receive. The College holds students to the strongest scholastic standards, and the same standards should be applied to our professors.

E-mail Devin Braun at [email protected]

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