The Future of Higher Ed Needs to Take Teaching Seriously

One of the major things I hear, even from professors I know with partial teaching appointments who care about how their students do and would like to continually do better, is that they are simply not rewarded or paid for their teaching efforts. This is perhaps a mantra that I hear more often than most because I’m in a doctoral teaching fellowship program and still (some days) have the energy to want to learn how to be a better, more effective, more inclusive teacher. Teaching is, after all, one of the most important functions of a university.

Often, this is blamed on tenure, a process which generally rewards research progress above all else and which has very few, if any, metrics of teaching. Tenure certainly does not require teaching¬†excellence, and often instructional positions at universities are not tenure-track. The problem, I assumed, was that universities do not reward or incentivize good teaching. However, I was very interested to read an (admittedly fairly old) Guardian article today about TEF, the UK’s system of assessment, funding, and incentives for quality instruction at colleges and universities. The system does not actually give universities with exceptional teaching programs more money to pay their exceptional teaching faculty, unlike REF, the analogous program for research.

In the US as well, teaching quality is not really taken into account. The majority of instructional funding comes from highly-politicized state budgets or from the tuition and fees paid by students. Most federal funding for higher education is awarded to schools on the behalf of lower-income students through federal grant and loan programs. Nowhere in this system, to my knowledge, is there a dial that can be turned to give more money to schools that are, say, spending money on teacher training and support, or hiring more faculty with majority-instructional appointments rather than tacking it onto the list of duties assigned to research grant-funded faculty. If it’s difficult to find funding for teaching positions, then it seems to follow that it will be equally difficult for institutions to emphasize or reward teaching in hiring, salary, and tenure decisions.

While higher education has many potential areas for improvement (and I could make a long list, as we are always able to most thoroughly criticize the things we love and want to see do better), I’d like to see a concerted push to reward better teaching. Universities should give all faculty and staff with a hand in teaching the time and resources to do it well, and reward them just as much as professors are rewarded for producing quality research. In order to do this, we also need funding and granting agencies (and, ultimately, public opinion and the department of education) to reward schools for investing more in high-quality teaching by providing the resources needed to make that feasible.


  1. I like this idea, I agree that teaching excellence never seems to enter into academic positions. I’ve had a handful of good teachers and a large group of good researchers (but not good teachers) teaching me. And the difference in what I learn and do in class is worlds apart, as well as my perception of how I’m doing. I would also extend this outside of the higher education world. We frankly, as a society, do not honor good teaching like we should and we especially don’t provide the resources to get more good teachers trained. And that’s a shame and our children are disadvantaged by this attitude.

  2. Thanks, Hleah, for bringing this into our discussion. I think a more pedagogical approach can somewhat solve this problem by pushing to reward better teaching.

  3. I agree that good teaching should be better rewarded. After all, research and teaching are intertwined in some ways. When you teach something to someone, you learn about the subject as well. Students ask questions you never thought of. Furthermore, part of doing research at a public university is sharing that knowledge in publications, but also in class. While not all good researchers are good teachers, there should be more of a link between the classroom and the “lab” I think is missing.

  4. If you were to ask the undergrads in my department who their favorite teacher was, it often comes down to one of two for almost everyone. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these two professors do little to no research and are almost wholly focused on teaching. Some of the worst professors I’ve had were tenured and were fairly important in their field of research.
    I wish there was a tenure track but for teaching positions. A lot of the reasons of why I’m doing what I’m doing is from enjoyable experiences I’ve had in classrooms with great professors.

  5. Thank you for posting this! I especially appreciated the honest discussion of tenure positions being driven predominantly on the basis of research contributions by the individual, rather than how profound or adept an instructor they are. I think this, in turn, forces a lot of exceptional instructors – who just want to be instructors because their passion is to teach – out of the running for R1 universities, sometimes R2 universities. This means they either need to sacrifice their, potential, dream position at a dream university or sacrifice – little by little – their passion for teaching to try and sum some up for researching, even if that isn’t really what they want to do.

  6. Thank you for sharing your perspective on the importance of TEACHING. After reading the article from Cathy Trower about the core values of new faculty, the second most important identified area from the COACHE survey was “support for effective teaching.” I think there are many faculty that want to teach and have to worry about keeping grants for funding, are dealing with budget cuts, and have to worry about getting published. The increased expectations of faculty may often lead to fatigue and decreased desire for what they truly love to do…teach.

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