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.