Very often in my college career, I have come into contact with great professors. I have seen professors bring enthusiasm to their classes that was absent in my K-12 classes. However, some professors at ENC are masters of their content but less skilled at delivering it to students.
I have heard some students say, “I love this professor as a person, but not as a teacher,” which I think aptly describes how I feel. We expect professors to be experts at their subjects and able to translate their knowledge to students who are likely learning it for the first time.
On the one hand, we are expecting a lot from professors: to be disciplinary experts, great teachers, as well as committee members. On the other hand, it is clearly problematic when professors lack formal training in teaching.
Keep in mind that a traditional view has been for students to keep up with the professor or fail the class. But today students from a variety of backgrounds–not just the intellectual elite–seek higher education. Moreover, there are many methods of pedagogy at our disposal. Thus the traditional view is no longer acceptable. Students must be expected to keep up, but professors must have fair expectations.
“Those who teach at a small liberal arts school like ENC are not here for research and outside scholarship, but to educate their students. It is their job to teach,” senior Jacob McAuliffe said. While Jake believes that it is his job to learn, he still understands that “it is extremely important that professors have at least a modicum of teaching experience.”
How many new hires have teaching experience? How many understand that ENC has a diverse student clientele?
I think that it is reasonable that our professors should brush up on their pedagogical skills. By taking a crash course over the span of a few weeks or months in basic teaching skills, they can improve their abilities to convey information and assess student performance. Education majors, including myself, have had a highly concentrated dose of pedagogical styles. I have thought and rethought my teaching styles and strategies. I’ve also learned that teaching is something to learn and relearn, and constantly reevaluate; no single pedagogy will work all the time for every student.
“We train our education majors to create detailed checklists and rubrics so they can accurately and fairly evaluate the work of their students. Students know in advance by what standard they are being measured. This way a student doesn’t feel that the teacher/professor has arbitrarily removed points from an assignment because they hold an advance degree and they said so,” Associate Professor of Education Matthew Henry said.
Some professors have not had formal educational training. Instead, they have learned how to teach by teaching freshmen-level courses in graduate school. Others have read books about pedagogy and classroom management. One professor who has developed his own teaching style is Dr. Phil LaFountain of the Religion & Philosophy Department.
“I didn’t realize I wanted to go into teaching until about halfway through my doctorate program. I spent the rest of my time being a master in my content. My first two or three years I went over to the other side of the island and ask my colleagues, ‘How do I teach?’ I asked them about how to make curriculum and syllabi. They gave me articles and chapters of books, and I used them to better my teaching,” LaFountain said.
Another issue to consider is that new professors might be hired with little time before the semester begins, preventing them from being adequately prepared. They also might not be as fortunate as professor LaFountain and have the Education Department right across the hall. What then? Will the school leave them hanging on a limb? Or should they provide some opportunity to sharpen their teaching chops?
“K-12 teachers have always had someone looking over their shoulders, making sure they’re actually teaching what they are supposed to be. This generally comes in the form of standardized tests. For the higher education levels, we don’t have that,” Dr. Ranstrom of the Education Department said.
However, ENC is making some steps towards addressing these issues.
“With the past Faculty Development Day, we discussed objectives and how we reach those objectives: assessments,” Ranstrom shared.
While this is a move in the right direction, the school should go further. In particular ENC should ensure that assessments and teaching are both fair and adequate, and that professors remain sensitive to students with learning disabilities.
Keep in mind, however, that some professors, like Professor Montague Williams of the Religion Department, have studied pedagogy and taught before arriving at ENC.
“In my first Master’s program (Master of Arts), I also served as a teaching fellow for multiple sections of an undergraduate course called ‘Christian Formation.’ It’s actually extremely similar to Christian Tradition here at ENC. We had to meet each week with other Master’s students/teaching fellows to discuss content and teaching strategies,” Williams said.
Williams adds, “The training I received in my doctoral program was helpful for technical things (syllabus and lecturing), but the reality is that it taught us to teach Master’s level students in that program. I’ve been finding that it is a bit unfair to expect as much reading and writing from my undergraduate students as I do from graduate students.”
In sum, college is a tremendous opportunity to learn about oneself, one’s society, and God. It is also a time to prepare for a vocation. To get the most out of it, then, professors must be terrific teachers who assist their students with learning new skills, sharpening old ones, and mastering content.
Let’s help them.