Monday, February 1, 2016

On Teaching v1 Why do you want to teach?

As you can see by my use of v1, I have a lot of thoughts about teaching swirling around in my head.  This comes from 2 sides.  First, my goal when I got an MFA was to teach.  I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, but I also wasn’t looking for an entry level, staff position where the best I could hope for was a stagecraft class while I was TD for all of the shows – I want to actively teach (and have a role in curriculum development).  Those positions are not as ready available, and frankly if I ever went back to teaching (which I hope, in some way that I do, eventually) I think my current work will probably help in adding to my effectiveness as a future teacher.  Second, I’m in the midst of a MS degree (middle mostly in that I haven’t applied for graduation yet, and have not completed “thesis” component of the degree.
Probably more so is that yet again, I have encountered what I believe is a fundamentally poor teacher.  Part of this problem is institutional in higher education.  Professors are hired not because they teach well, but, often, since they are “subject matter experts”.  In business especially, many professors do not have doctorates, but are successful people in their line of business.  Secondly, they are often hired based on research (as this can help fund the department).  Neither of these qualities have anything to do with the skill required to be a good teacher.
Granted to get tenure (if you happen to be in a tenure track position) student assessments are taken into consideration.  Historically I have done these at the last class.  At the current institution that I take classes at the assessments are not required to be done by all, and are due a week or so before the quarter electronically.  I don’t always complete them.  I would say that typically I would expect these to come back only in highly positive or highly negative since they are somewhat voluntary, except that I know that I have missed the deadline even when I had strong opinions about a class. Thus the only student metric is not one that is reliable.
It seems to me that many poor teachers seem to want to teach because it is easy to make extra $ (as an adjunct working a full time job).  Or perhaps if they are full time, they perceive the position as having less work required than any other work since it is semester or quarter based.  It seems to be forgotten that developing course content, grading, making sure that students understand core concepts are all part of teaching, much of which happens outside of the actual onsite teaching hours that are required per course.  Granted creating and teaching a course for the first time is probably hard than teaching is subsequently, but you have to keep updated on the subject and you have to keep your content updated.  If you have a staff or faculty position there is often advising and committee work on top of teaching duties.  Further, you need to stay current on industry trends, go to conferences, potentially speak at conferences and such, and so forth.  In short, teaching is not any easier than any other line of work.  How good you are at what you do is directly related to what you put into it.
The issue however, is that I am not sure how much universities really care if the teachers they hire (especially as adjuncts) are good or not.  Part of this is the predatory trend that I think colleges have been headed down (another topic of discussion).  Maybe there are a glut of unqualified individuals.  Maybe there are a lack of positions available in all of the different specialties required, and these are reasons behind adjuncts.  What I know, are that professors who have little investment in teaching are often very poor. 
As a student – I don’t pay any less to have a poor teacher than a good one.  It doesn’t serve employers down the road you expect to hire a graduate if they were taught by poor instructors and didn’t learn what they needed to.  And ultimately this gives the college or university a bad reputation. 
None of the above is rocket science.  While being a professor is a lot of work, to be fair putting together a life as an adjunct is also a lot of work.  The pay is very poor compared to a full time position, you need to string together a variety of courses (taking on a much higher course load) to equal out to the income a full time professor might make (on the low end), and they don’t receive benefits. 
Since it is not easy to be an adjunct, and it isn’t necessarily easy – it comes back to why are they doing, and probably more to why I am writing this) why they are often poor teachers.  Is that they are too busy to do the job successfully?  Are they just looking for an extra boost to their normal full time employment and don’t feel obligated to go above and beyond what they see their duties are (showing up for class and grading?)?

I think the situation is getting progressively worst – in that it seems to be more and more common that a teacher is given 2 courses to teach – one section in person, and one online.  In my personal experience this seems to equate out to the teacher giving a lecture (which online students later have access to via a recorded session) and grading assignments (which are the same) for both groups of students.  In reality this doesn’t work.  What works well in a classroom does not work well online.  Obviously there are differences dependent on class type (discussion versus lecture), but in either case an online class should be taught differently.  Secondly, no one at the university level seem to be giving instructors information on how to teach effectively online (or at least insuring that they know).  For instance – they should speak towards the microphone.  They shouldn’t block the board that they are writing on with their body.  They should repeat student questions. These seem basic to me, but I see countless times that I have issues understanding an instructor because of one of the above reasons.  There is also technology that some professors use that allow you to join their class live (if you want), and / or that that have virtual office hours where they are online in an environment with a  white board where you can draw, message back and form, and even share documents and mark up the document live.  I know that even attending live classes that skill and teaching style varies, so of course it doesn’t online.  But the best teachers, in either location also get that students also have different learning styles.  I guess the bottom line is why colleges and universities are so lax in their regulation of quality teaching (or why it’s not a priority on the first place).

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