Monday, February 8, 2016

Teaching Take 2. Bad Teaching

This sounds bad, and to a certain extent I apologize for that.  On the other hand – I find it frustrating.  As a student I believe that a teacher has a certain responsibility to their students (regardless of the cost of tuition, but tuition is costly).  My belief of a responsibility doesn’t discount the responsibility of the student to be an active learner.  Just that they should be responsible not just for disseminating information, but making sure that real learning occurs.  I don’t know the answer to this question.  I know that in many cases teachers are hired because of what they have accomplished in their careers (frequently common in business).  Depending on the institution they are hired because they do research (and/or have many publications) and that in both cases, the high profile of the “teacher” can bring in funding to the school.  Neither of these situations have ANY bearing on the capacity of the individual to be a successful teacher.  It is critical that a teacher has domain knowledge.  There are theories out there where this is a debatable criteria, but let’s assume that it is true, for the sake of argument. While I know this may work in coaching, teaching and coaching are not vacantly the same thing.  I’m not an educational theorist – but I don’t necessarily need to be one to say that regardless of any of those theories, bad teaching exists.

Just to be clear, I don’t think that teachers mean to teach poorly.  I think I have seen a lot of reasons over the years for “poor” teaching.  Poorly treated adjunct professors may be working at double or triple the load of a normal professor with no benefits -   Poor teaching in this case could simply be an issue of not having time – or capacity to be as thorough as potentially them may need to be.  Maybe they are burned out from striving to teach and do committee work, publish, and chase tenure. 
But I think, in my opinion, the issue is that teachers are not hired for their ability to teach, they are not taught how to teach after being hired, and that successful teaching is not a primary concern for maintaining their employment.  And I think that it is a problem.  Teachers should be mentored, and taught (assuming they have mentors how are successful teachers) about pedagogy.  They should be able to engage with students in multiple ways.  I don’t have an issue with a class that is a lecture class – but then the lectures should be done well. 

What I see that frustrates me the most are mostly simple things:

-          Poor public speaking, not being audible (even after being asked).  Not repeating student’s questions (this is a huge issue in some online courses). 

-          Lack of clear expectations and feedback to the students.  What is a quality response?  And I spend an hour to make a quality response to a question online and another student say’s yea me too – are we graded equally?  Intrinsic motivation aside, I don’t need to spend hours doing “busy work’ for an online participation grade while have the class gets the same grade for agreeing.  (Except that I do, which is probably why I get mad). 

-          Teaching skills that you don’t demonstrate as a teacher.  If you are teaching a course about creating a learning environment, then create a good learning environment.  I have had multiple classes where slides were published with poor grammar and incorrect information.  It’s hard to learn something when the provided materials are not correct.  Then of course, how do you have any credibility in the first place….

-          Class format, topic, and online versus in person all have different costs and benefits.  Teachers probably have preferred styles, but learners do too.   I have learned a lot from classes that were all lecture.  Unless the teacher is very skilled at leading a discussion, I find learning to be more difficult when it is only discussion – seminar style – unless, the students are very vested.  But generally mixes of styles work best for me.  Discussion is valuable. I like case studies.  I think group projects can be important (though I typically don’t care for them).  But it isn’t a one size fits all situation.

-          Last, but most wrong to me are classes where the teacher tells you a certain percentage of what you need to know to be successful (and it typically occurs in classes where you cannot easily research the remaining information), and expect you to figure out the rest – because they thing that proves that you are learning.  Examples:
o   Teach someone how to draft, tell them to design a house, but expect them to design windows, doors properly without showing them what the symbols mean for those elements (as they can just figure that out on their own).  Better yet, teach someone auto cad, even if they have no drafting experience.  Technically possible – but it comes with a loss of quality.  Or teach a French class, and expect someone to know what a library is called because they know the work for book.  I’m not saying that a student should not be able to put 2 and 2 together.  Students should problem solve, but teachers need to allow that to happen, and to give them the framework to build upon (or, conversely not expect the student to come up with the teacher’s “correct answer”.  I have seen a recent trend where teachers hold back information and tell students to figure it out, and that that if they wouldn’t give them any more information it would be “cheating”.  I don’t get that.   

There are other issues at play of course.  Do students rate easy teachers more highly than hard teachers?  There a third factor of fairness at work – hard but fair is okay, but hard and unclear is different?  I have heard that easy teachers are not necessarily ranked better – but in my personal experiences, there does seem to be a correlation between easy = higher ratings.   

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