Really? Professors aren't taught how to teach?

A friend of mine wants to become a college professor. He’s in the English graduate program and I asked him why he wasn’t in the teaching program instead.

According to him, there isn’t a college major (or supplemental program) designed to teach professors how to, well, teach. I never knew that.

So… apparently you get a PhD in some random subject area and suddenly you’re expected to know how to effectively convey that information to a room full of 18-20somethings with zero additional training?

Why don’t we have a better system? Heck, personal trainers have certifications. K-12 teachers have teaching credentials. But college professors really are just magically expected to know how to teach well?

Does that explain why I’ve had so many professors (especially in the sciences and computer fields) who are obviously experts in their fields but who cannot convey a single thought with any degree of clarity?

This is madness.

Professors are hired and tenured for research productivity. If they are also passionate about teaching, that’s simply a bonus. I don’t think any schools even pretend to care about teaching, except for a handful outside of the U.S. News top 25.

Why is it that I get the wrath of double spacing my posts from forum Yuppies?

But, other people get a pass? :dubious:

Changed the title as you requested, Reply.

Thank you!

Yep. I went to a research university. There were some excellent engineering profs but it was a bonus if they were. That wasn’t why they were hired. A lot of the best teaching was done by graduate student TAs, such as myself. My office hours were packed when the prof was a shitty teacher.

Yes, as a Ph.D. graduate student I got zero guidance in how to teach. Since I had a fellowship I only had to teach a few semesters. I did pretty well based on my evaluations from students, but some of the other teaching assistants were awful.

As has been said, most hiring of new Ph.D.s is done on the number and quality of publications. Nobody cares about teaching ability.

At four years, yes, professors are hired for research. At community colleges, research doesn’t get as much consideration in hiring, and they are more interested in teaching experience. But the only reason I got taught how to teach is that my graduate school ran a “boot camp” for us when we were TAs, and I had already been teaching SAT prep courses for Princeton Review. Our community college offers lots of ongoing professional development to develop teaching skills, but I don’t think those are things that four years are going to focus on.

Perhaps the mindset is that primary education is where students are taught. At the college and university level, students are expected to know how to learn. It’s no longer knowledge being conveyed to students; the students are now supposed to acquire knowledge. The professors are like a library - they’re a resource for obtaining knowledge but they’re not going to feed it to you.

Plus by the time you get a PhD you’ve basically been a student for at least 20 years. Presumably you have some basic idea of what’s normally entailed with teaching a class.

As Kolga’s post implies, different types of schools have different expectations of professors. If you go to a research university, you’ll have faculty that are hired and evaluated based on their research productivity. A newly hired assistant professor might have a teaching load of just three classes a year, but (s)he’s also expected to bring in grant funding, publish, and advise graduate students. When (s)he goes up for tenure, the decision will be based mainly on research productivity. Teaching evaluations count, but not as much - good research can save a bad teacher, but good teaching can’t buoy a sub-standard researcher.

At a small liberal arts college, the focus of the institution is more on teaching and the undergraduate experience than it is on purely research. Teaching loads vary from three classes a year (with significant research expectations) to four classes a semester, depending on the school and its priorities. Profs might be expected to involve undergrads in their research, advise student groups, and otherwise be more connected with undergrads than at research schools. Teaching evaluations count a lot more in these settings, but many (especially the more prestigious ones) still require a fair amount of research productivity for tenure.

The tricky part of this is that research and teaching duties often end up in conflict with one another - time spent in the classroom, in office hours, on field trips, etc. is time spent out of the lab (or the field, or the library). When an untenured prof has to choose between research and teaching, they’ll generally go with the one that’s more likely to get them tenured. Tenured faculty have a little more flexibility, but they usually have additional service requirements (journal editing, committee work, department chairs, etc.) to fulfill as well, and sometimes a heavier teaching load.

Community colleges are a whole different ballgame. Some are very teaching focused and commit a lot of resources to recruiting and retaining good faculty members; others will dump any warm body with a terminal degree in front of a class. The good ones, though, offer some of the best values in higher education available - you find people who really want to teach working at those schools.

Agreed. I had some profs I TA’d for where I would hold a class after the lecture and I’d say - “Forget everything you just heard” and then proceed to teach them the correct way to solve a problem.

On the other hand if you’re in an engineering program you better be a quick study.
In grad school I had a few classes where the prof would give us a reading list and say “That’s enough to get you started on the basic concepts. Read it and come back here in 2 weeks with an outline for a research paper.”

I think what confuses people is the belief that professor is a qualification rather than just a job title. The title can be conferred on anyone the institution wants to call professor. In recent years even teenagers have been granted the title.

Think about it. How could there be an undergraduate major or a graduate program which teaches about college teaching? As an undergraduate you’re only just starting to learn about your subject and only just starting to learn about how college works. How would you both have time to learn the subject and to learn about teaching it at a college level? As a grad student you’re spending all your time learning the higher-level things about your subject and learning to do research. How would you have time to make it through an extensive program that teaches you how to teach college courses? A few graduate programs do offer one course on teaching the subject at a college level. The attitude of most graduate programs is that they barely have time to teach you all the necessary material about the subject and to get you started on doing research in the subject. They consider that your work as a teaching assistant should introduce you to how college teaching works. Once you become a college professor, you’re expected to learn on the job about teaching college.

To be fair, some universities, for example my current one, UGA, offer certificates, weekly seminars, occasional lectures, and even semester-long courses about teaching methods, teaching adults, and class preparation, among other things. The idea is that the doctoral students are somewhat prepared to teach at college level. So it is not that weird.

That said, taking those courses depends on the program the student is enrolled in and in the student’s interest. For example, I was not interested in teaching at the beginning of my graduate course, and now it is too late to take some of the courses which could benefit me. Plus, sometimes the classes interfere with some of my other program requirements (which include teaching other graduate students).

Also, even four-year universities like UGA will offer lectures and seminars to already tenured faculty to help them improve their teaching methods or inform them of new teaching techniques available. Again, attendance to those is not mandatory and is on the faculty members to attend, no one will force them.

My take? It is interesting in my department to see how someone is a good teacher to one level of students, but completely the opposite to those in another level…

Are all grad students required to TA as well?

And it doesn’t have to be a whole major, maybe just a required supplemental “how to teach” program. And as for time? These are already people who’s spending nearly a decade on higher ed; I’m sure a few months more to produce better professors isn’t really that unreasonable.

Most graduate students do at least some work as a teaching assistant. Some are research assistants. Some have a fellowship that pays them enough to live on. Some have a full-time job that they are juggling with grad school. Some are supported by their spouses or other members of their family. They have to have something to live on. It’s not like being an undergraduate. Mommy and daddy aren’t paying for your living expenses anymore. You’re on your own.

Grad students don’t have time for an extensive program in teaching college. Grad students are often so exhausted they’re ready to drop at any moment. Just learning about their subject, doing research, and trying to earn a living in some way is already more than they have time for.

I’m talking specifically about PhD students who want to become teachers, not generic grad students. The equivalent of a teaching credential for people who want to teach college-level courses.

It really depends upon the field.
I can tell you from my experience that at UIC, there was no requirement to teach but no one was paying for a Phd in engineering unless they were stupid; well there may have been one or two but for the most part if you were good enough to be in the program you were good enough to get a ride and all you had to do was TA or be a reasearcher for your adviser. I think the TA route was much easier so that’s what I took.

I stopped at my masters but it was still a pretty sweet deal…
tuition - covered
books - covered
any assiciated fees - covered
healthcare - covered
and just for the hell of it they threw me a monthly paycheck of $2k

Combined with the money I made bartending it was not at all uncomfortable.

I’m going to have to disagree here. At least in the UK you are given guidance on how to teach. As a PhD student, before I could even spend any time alone with students I needed to complete a course on the basics of tutoring (actually, there were about four such courses, and after every course you could take on more teaching responsibility). As a postdoc I’ve just completed another course (tailored to the needs of my current employer) on how to supervise undergraduate students. Supervisions here are serious business, and if the students complain about the quality of my tutoring I’ll be banned from doing it again.

Further, I know my PhD supervisor had to attend a series of courses and seminars over the course of a year telling him how to teach undergraduates as a new lecturer (for the US: assistant professor), prepare courses and mark examinations. The university also ran seminars where academics could swap ideas on teaching.

So, in the UK, you are expected to know a little bit about how to teach before you enter a lecture hall or take on tutoring undergraduates.