Because I am a Professor of Practice (and have 20 years industry experience instead of a PhD) I lack the experience of being a graduate student for a research professor. I had naively assumed that part of all PhD programs was dedicated to teaching future academics how to teach.
When I was hired at VT I received zero guidance or mentoring on how to teach. I literally have made it up as I’ve gone along. By the end of my second year I learned that I wasn’t the only faculty member in my department that lacked formal instruction in the basics of teaching. Almost none of my fellow faculty members had received training related to teaching. They are great researchers and skilled at getting grants, certainly. While some are great teachers, most are not.
Initially I did not know how to get help in “Teaching 101” but eventually learned on my own that VT has the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL, formerly CIDER) and an entire department in the COE dedicated to Engineering Education. I took a CETL certificate course in “Principles of Effective Teaching” and enrolled in the Engineering Education graduate certificate program. That first semester I learned volumes of information about teaching that have been invaluable.
Now in my fourth year of teaching I’ve developed a passion for the dilemma I feel we are facing; no one is teaching future college professors how to teach. The February 11, 2018 issue of “The Chronicle of Higher Education” discusses this exact topic. It cites statistics including that the American Association of University Professors estimates that over 70% of all faculty positions are non-tenure track, which usually means they are more focused on teaching instead of research. Yet most PhD programs still do not include teaching training.
The article mentions some reasons why this might be happening but I’d like to address the problem head-on, in the COE, or at least in my department. I see a two-pronged approach that could be implemented. First, we need to include teaching instruction in our PhD program; this will benefit the students but also the institutions where they may end up as faculty. Second, we need to make sure our faculty (regardless of where they got their PhD) have teaching instruction. A way to do that is to require all current and future tenure-track faculty members to take the graduate certificate course in Engineering Education. While this approach would not correct or improve the teaching of current tenured faculty it would certainly start the wave of change required to significantly improve the teaching skills of our faculty members.