To follow up with a few additional comments on our class discussion, I am intrigued that college instructors, whether professors, full-time teaching faculty, or T.A.’s, often have little formal training in teaching. I find this interesting because colleges and universities are considered the epitome of higher education, yet those delivering this education may not be adequately prepared to do so. As I mentioned during class, most elementary and secondary school teachers have a degree in education, which usually involves two years of education-specific classes, following two years of general education courses. Students also shadow teachers at nearby schools and take over a class for a semester during student teaching, while the teacher of record attends the class and provides feedback. One of my friends is a middle school teacher and has her undergraduate and Master’s degrees in English Education as well as additional certifications. We had a discussion a few years ago about Teach for America, which we feel is a worthwhile program with an imperative mission to improve access to high-quality education in underprivileged communities. However, my friend did criticize that the teachers only attend a six week training session the summer before entering the classroom; she was of the opinion that it is impossible to be anywhere near qualified to teach after such a short amount of time. One could easily argue that, even if the teachers are not extremely experienced, any additional resources would be an improvement over existing conditions in impoverished areas. It is also possible that highly motivated people, or perhaps individuals with a natural knack for teaching, can learn to be effective teachers in a few weeks. I think my friend feared that this program would only prolong the disparity in which unqualified teachers go to underprivileged schools.
Taking a step back to our conversation about teaching in higher education, the six weeks of training for Teach for America is, while far too little preparation according to my friend, is way more instruction on how to teach than most T.A.’s or professors ever receive. A couple of people in class mentioned that their departments had, at most, a one week “crash course” in instruction or a practicum to take alongside a T.A. Still, most of the time, there is no framework or guidance to foster the development of teaching skills, and teaching is generally regarded as something the graduate student or professor will figure out eventually. In the case of T.A.’s, the graduate student may be new to the department, having received an undergraduate degree in a different field, and not know anything about the material before teaching the class. To make another comparison to primary and secondary education, I thought about how a similar scenario would appear in this setting. For example, I would be uncomfortable if I found out that the kindergarten teacher of my hypothetical child does not have any background in Early Childhood Education and has never taught five-year-olds before but, instead, has a Bachelor’s degree in Physics and “is sure he/she can figure it all out.” Obviously, kindergarteners are distinct (in some ways) from college freshmen, but I do think this comparison highlights veritable concerns.
There was some debate in class whether or not professors tend to care about teaching. I agree that most professors, in my experience, do put considerable effort into their classes. However, I also think it is important to think about why this common perception—that professors are more concerned with their research or graduate-level classes than introductory courses—exists. I would argue that this idea is prevalent because it does contain a grain of truth, even if it does not describe the majority of cases. In my opinion, teaching is very obviously placed on the backburner in academia by the notion that anyone can do it with little to no support or guidance, either implicitly assuming that teaching is easy, or that the quality of the teaching does not matter. Teaching experience is increasingly necessary to include on a resume, but listing T.A. appointments or classes taught does not indicate the ability or effectiveness of the instructor. There is virtually no sort of monitoring or control on the instruction, whereas the dissertation or thesis research of an individual is thoroughly evaluated by the committee and, later, by a journal editor and peer reviewers.