Last week's discussion of teaching and teaching evaluations made me reflect more on my own experiences as a student and a professor.
As a student, I only had a few awful professors. When I ended up in a class with a professor who was a poor teacher, I was mostly disappointed rather than enraged about my wasted time or not getting my $'s worth or whatever. I was fortunate that most of these professors were merely inept teachers, not cruel or unfair. I had one cruel and unfair professor (during a year spent studying abroad), and that was more than enough.
I always got something out of a course, even if it was mostly from the reading. I recall one class that was dominated by neurotic students talking about themselves rather than focusing on the reading or general discussion topics. The professor seemed to encourage such behavior, and one day I couldn't take it anymore so I jumped out of the classroom window when the professor's back was turned (the classroom was on the ground floor) and escaped. Even so, I enjoyed the reading for that class and I got a lot out of being exposed to new literature and ideas.
As a professor, I see how hard my colleagues work at teaching (yes, even at a major research university ). And as a professor serving on committees that look at teaching evaluations for individuals over a multi-year period, I know that a common feature of the files of professors who start out as bad teachers is evidence for improvement, steady or dramatic (as discussed last week).
Outrage about uncaring and rude professors is justified, but I don't think that well-meaning but (initially) inept professors should be castigated in the same way. It's not as if every graduate student is encouraged to, or even given the opportunity to, develop teaching skills and somehow declines to do this. In most cases, the opportunities do not exist or are insufficient training for teaching a class as the major instructor. You can blame the system, but it's not fair to blame the graduate students who become the professors who have little teaching experience.
6 months ago