The value of teaching

My professors are smart people. I respect their PhDs and acknowledge the years of work they’ve put in. I accept that their knowledge is valuable and I believe that it is important that I learn it. I trust their research is important and they are well accomplished in their respective field.

But I don’t believe that they’re teachers. Professors, yes. Teachers, no. Having knowledge doesn’t mean that you know how to pass it on.

A teacher is someone who is excited about their material. They explain it clearly and use visual examples that get the class involved. Everyone can tell that they’re interested in their students. They inspire.

Granted there are some professors who are excellent teachers, whether naturally or because they choose to take courses that teach you how to teach.

Then there are the profs who lecture like they’re in a room full of their peers, not students. What they’re saying is valuable but the students aren’t at a point in their education to understand what’s being said.

These profs are trying but they’re just not getting their point across. Others lecture word for word from the textbook and then wonder why no one is showing up for class.    That’s not teaching. And its impact on the students is phenomenal.

In my experience, class averages sit at 65 per cent. That doesn’t sound phenomenal but that’s because we’ve gotten used to it. A 65 per cent class average in a program that requires a 60 per cent  to stay in the program means that a large chunk of students are either flunking or coming close.

Quite frankly I don’t see a reason for it. Certainly there are some cases where the students don’t apply themselves but it’s harder to dig up the motivation to try when you can’t even understand where to begin or the professor just doesn’t care.

Learning should not be a privilege. It shouldn’t be something that you can receive only if you’re naturally smart enough to keep up and stubborn enough to keep showing up. Learning should be challenging but it shouldn’t be a challenge.

If no one is teaching, no one is learning. Why aren’t professors required to know how to teach? It may be because low test scores mean more drop-outs which means the university gets more tuition than degrees it gives out. It may be because that’s how it’s always been. It may be because research is important than teaching.

There are already existing optional programs that profs can take to improve teaching skills. Just make a couple mandatory. One quick summer course every three years. One half credit of the PhD program.

However, I can’t put all the blame on the profs. In many cases they simply don’t have the time to teach, never mind effectively. With competition in the field and in available jobs, our professors have to try and juggle teaching effectively with putting out frequent, relevant research.

For some research slips a little, for others teaching goes first. Home life is a whole other story.

Students are paying to learn and it seems only fair that they get what they’re paying for. Teachers who can make learning happen.

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