Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Graduate student teaching

SteveG makes some interesting points here about the training of graduate students to be teachers. My sister just finished her M.A. in education and we discussed a few times the contrast between our respective programs and the contrasting attitudes towards learning how to teach.

Another factor that SteveG doesn't mention is that graduate school is a very competitive environment, one where you, your colleagues, and the professors are all making judgements about each other's intelligence, knowledge, and creativity. This creates a value system where, especially in academic contexts, the worth of a person is correlated to their competency as a thinker or student. This means that when you leave the rarefied air of the graduate department, where even the worst students are at least still educated and intelligent, to teach intro courses for undergraduate students many of whom can barely read, it becomes difficult to maintain the necessary respect for your students. Perhaps this is not a universal phenomenon, but more characteristic of mid-range and/or underfunded universities, but most of the professors I've spoken to are fairly cynical about teaching. As much as anything, what I've been trained in as a teacher is low expectations.

However, what this does is create another incentive to devote your energies to research rather than teaching. It is not just the objective reward structure of getting tenure that rewards research rather than teaching, but also the competitive nature of graduate programs influence the values of grad students in ways that can be detrimental to their teaching.

No comments: