In my daily reading, I ran across an article titled, “Do college professors work hard enough? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/do-college-professors-work-hard-enough/2012/02/15/gIQAn058VS_story.html?wprss=rss_opinions)” This got me thinking because of my own experience teaching. When I first started teaching, I was working with computer based vocational skills – everything from office software to premier computer certifications. When I first started, we had a lot of instructors and we frequently had prep days where we would play with new material to prepare for new classes or higher level classes. The number of classes we could teach was directly related to our pay. We typically taught from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM with the usual workplace breaks.
So I compare this model to higher education and this is where I start to really wonder about the workload. If I am teaching fairly similar material, then I should need a similar amount of preparation. In most cases, it was a day of preparation for a day of teaching (based on predefined courses). Once I had prepared for the course, I could teach it at any time since I was familiar with the material. This means I’m teaching 250 days out of the year at about 6.5 hours per day for a total of 1625 hours per year (assuming 2 weeks vacation). Keep in mind that frequently students will stay after class (wouldn’t you?), which is very similar to office hours in higher education, so the remaining ~400 hours gets balanced out with classroom preparation (turning on and off computers) and student interaction. This is a similar argument laid out in the article and I have applied my own personal numbers to the situation. The premise to the argument in the article is that the structure of teaching at a research institution by research faculty is commonly applied to other settings and other lecturer positions. The article uses an example of 15 hours per week for 30 weeks for about 450 hours as their base numbers of comparison.
Some might argue that higher education typically does not have predefined courses but I would have to argue two main points: 1. if a department is going to develop a course, they frequently will have a development stipend, 2. if you have already taught the course, then you are only making modifications unless you completely failed during the development. There is also a lot of battle with academic freedom, which was also a factor in my teaching but we didn’t raise such a stink about it. No matter which kind of academic setting, we still have learning objectives and learning outcomes that need to be followed. So this isn’t an apples and oranges comparison of flexible theory courses versus predefined vocational courses.
A third key point on predefined courses is that faculty in higher education are supposed to be the cream of the crop when it comes to teaching the material. But are they? Maybe all the extra time is because nobody actually taught them to focus their time on teaching so they never got good at it. Heck, many professors can’t accurately write a course learning objective. They can prove neat scientific theorems and quote the historical masters of the universe, but how many of them actually were taught how to teach by a trained teacher? If you were to have me build a spacecraft, it would take me a long time because I don’t know much about it. I’m smart, I can figure it out eventually, and I’m sure I can come up with something that will work (for the most part), but is that the quality you are looking for? Then why do we allow this in higher education?