One of the reasons why I chose Virginia Tech for a PhD is because of its emphasis on teaching. Many universities boast of teaching as one of its missions, however not all universities actually prepare students to teach. I applied to one university’s Preparing the Future Professoriate program and attended the information session. During this session, the leaders described how students could not co-teach or teach a class outside of the discipline associated with their degree. This bothered me in the way in which these individuals did not even want to take into consideration a scenario where an interdisciplinary student may want to assist a member of their committee whom may not be in the same department as them. I find this to not be very common, but it most definitely happens sometimes. This program also wanted students to have already finished their qualifying exam before being admitted to the program.
Within the application, students were asked to describe their teaching philosophy. I found this to be an interesting question for students that had not yet been accepted into the program. Shouldn’t the program help a student form a teaching philosophy? Considering that there are not that many opportunities for students to teach to begin with, I believe so. The application also wanted to know about teaching awards and accolades related to the named teaching mentor. To clarify, the students had to choose their teaching mentor based upon the instructor of the course they wanted to teach. I disagree with this requirement because a teaching mentor should not have to be someone associated with the course itself. Of course the student will have to work with the instructor to develop materials for the course, however, another instructor may be able to assist with course design, activities, and evaluating student teaching.
Virginia Tech’s Graduate Teaching Scholar program provides a cohesive experience that begins right when a PhD student begins classes and lasts throughout the duration of their degree. I feel strongly that teaching programs should be set up in this way so that students can be fully prepared to take on a course themselves. Each cohort spends two-three years together, taking a course each semester to assist with teaching and course material preparation.
Although many graduate students serve as teaching assistants, these roles are often merely to assist with demonstrations and grading. The teaching assistant rarely helps to develop or deliver course materials. However, if graduate students are not actually being trained to teach, then how will they know how to do it?
I think some of the questions we need to ask are: 1) is higher education training graduate students to teach effectively? And 2) is higher education doing so in a way that makes sense to address the variability of student needs?