Day: May 22, 2018

On Teaching, Take Eleventy Gazillion

I have to rant about teaching a bit (again).

I’m doing course assignments this year and a relatively junior faculty member just tells me that he doesn’t want to be in rotation to teach a certain required undergraduate course any more. He just doesn’t want to! Why? Well, he taught it three times and his evaluations were always bad, “ruining his excellent teaching record.” His record is not excellent. Anyone (you’d hope) can teach well an upper-level graduate course in own specialty. Tbh, he’s not fabulous even there based on the numbers; there are much better people. My own grad students took his courses and do not consider him particularly good.

The freakin’ ego on people, seriously.

So he just doesn’t want to do it. And there’s a senior faculty member who doesn’t want to do it either, for the same reason (bad evals).

I have blogged about this course before. The material is hard and abstract. It’s not easy to teach, and it takes a ton of thought and time to do it right. But I have taught it many times and I’ve always received good evaluations because: a) I really care that the lectures are engaging; b) I learn everyone’s name even though it’s a huge class because that increases student engagement and class attendance; c) I carefully craft homework and exams; d) I have a ton of office hours, with extra ones the day before the exams; e) I often teach discussion. It is absolutely possible to get good evaluations in these large undergraduate courses, even as a woman instructor, but it requires a lot of work.

Here are some things I have suggested that the colleague do in order to help him engage students more. (Btw, I sat in on his classes several times. He knows the material, but he is deathly, deathly boring. If I were the student, I’d likely stop coming to class. )

I suggested to switch to three times a week instead of twice, as undergrads needs more contact with the material, plus the material is hard and they can’t keep focus for that long. He doesn’t want to because he wants to spend minimal time on teaching and focus on research.

I suggested he teach discussions or introduce more office hours (he has them once a week) to increase contact time with students. He doesn’t want to because he wants to spend minimal time on teaching and focus on research.

I suggested he get comfortable with the course materials: maybe find a different book or make his own notes; tailor the homework and exams a little bit rather than use previous-year materials made by someone else; decide what to focus on, maybe cut some material out or put something else in. His answer? He doesn’t want to because he wants to spend minimal time on teaching and focus on research.

So, to summarize. You have poor teaching evaluations because you don’t care about teaching at all and don’t want to invest time or effort into it, and undergrads are not stupid and can tell who cares and who doesn’t, and most of them do actually appreciate people caring about teaching. Now, since you didn’t want to put in the work and got poor evaluations you want us to reward you by never having to teach this course again.

It makes me livid because the reward for doing a good job with time-consuming teaching assignments is getting to do even more time-consuming teaching assignments, which cuts down your time for research.

The reward for bad teaching? Less teaching and more time for research, and thus more money and prestige and the ability to look down your nose at those poor suckers like me who end up picking up your goddamn slack. You can even say that we must enjoy these labor-intensive teaching assignments so it’s our own fault that we keep getting them, otherwise why wouldn’t we get out of them like you did?

I fuckin’ hate my colleagues who seem to think students are a nuisance. These young people and their families pay good money and go into debt to learn in our classrooms, so how dare you do a shoddy job, you self-absorbed piece of $hit.

And I hate it that the higher-ups just shrug and appeal to fairness to students when they create two strata of faculty, those who are too precious to teach undergrads and those whose research time is apparently worthless and who can be manipulated with these calls to fairness to students. I want it to be worth more to teach well a large undergrad course than a small graduate seminar. I want the effort recognized and rewarded. I want the colleagues who are selfish to be penalized for it, not rewarded with more research time.

Listen, I like teaching undergrads. They are adorable and hilarious. But I hate that teaching undergrads is considered lowly by my colleagues, that it’s considered $hit work unbecoming of true intellectual genii. I want us all to pull our weight teaching undergrads and I want us all to do it well. Evals suck? Do better. Evals still suck? Maybe a penalty of some kind, then, but definitely not an effective teaching release, for chrissakes.