Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Professors: Teachers or Researchers?

A bill in North Carolina is proposing to make professors at universities teach 4 classes per semester. And that's in addition to the research they must do (commonly referred to in academic circles as "publish or perish"). Understandably, those in academia are upset by this. Being required to do your job a certain way, and particularly in a way that it doesn't work, is infuriating. Being required to do so by people who are not in your industry: even more ridiculous.

But...why are we conflating these two things? Why do professors have to be full time teachers AND researchers? Where did we get the idea that subject matter experts are the best teachers? Clearly, some professors don't really get the work that goes into teaching:

Teaching college, especially if you’re good at it, isn’t particularly hard. But it does take time—and those 75 minutes in the classroom are the least of it. There are the office hours (which most students eschew for for professor as 24-hour email concierge); there’s the prep (anywhere from two to 10 hours for one class meeting); and then, of course, there are the hours upon hours—upon godforsaken hours—of grading. Four (or five!) courses, even with the shortcuts afforded by a teaching assistant here and there (which most people don’t get), are a full-time job in and of themselves.

You know what happens when true subject matter experts (the kind who just get it from the start) teach? They can't explain things. They understand so intrinsically that they are easily frustrated when students don't. And they can't see why their classes don't understand the steps to solve a problem, in large part because they don't see all the steps clearly themselves.

Education reformers, especially those who haven't spent time in the classroom, think it's all about making sure teachers know things and are infallible sources of information. But we're not that. We're problem solvers, explainers, writers, activity designers. Teaching is not easy. It's not simple. And it's definitely not something that should be done while also conducting huge research projects.

Why don't we separate the research from the teaching? I would love to be a college lecturer, but I would not like to be a researcher. And I definitely would not like to do both.

North Carolina education bill: It would require public university professors to teach eight courses per year.

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