The Bug Geek

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Tag Archives: pedagogy

Does teaching matter?

Some of you may recall that I have been the teaching assistant for an introductory zoology lab for the past few years. When the powers that be restructured the lab in a major way last year (cut the number of lab sessions in half), I took the initiative to make some pretty significant changes in terms of the material being taught and how it was presented. I am tweaking things even more this term, based on feedback from last year’s students and on some new pedagogical approaches I’ve learned.

Since the current labs are definitely better but not best, and would really benefit from a thoughtful and thorough revision and updating, I got this idea that I would approach the chair of our department and offer my (paid) services to do the work, perhaps over the summer since my field component won’t be so heavy this year. Not knowing whether this would be red-tape-or-pecking-order-ly acceptable, I went and spoke to my advisor and told him my idea.

I mostly expected him to say: “It’s not really appropriate for a student to take on that kind of role,” and I would have accepted that. If that didn’t happen, the alternative I’d imagined was something like, “Cool. This would be a great course development/teaching experience. Approach the chair and check it out, but make sure you’re still getting your research/publications done in a timely way,” which I would have perceived as both awesome and perfectly reasonable.

But what I heard, and what surprised me, was this: “No one reading your CV is going to care about something like that. It’s not a good use of your time. Write and publish papers. That’s really all that matters.***”

I’m well aware of the importance of publications as the “currency” of academia, and their role as indicators of one’s research activities. I get it. I have a half-dozen manuscripts lined up (in my head, anyways), and want to get them all at least in press/under review before I have to start worrying about securing post-doc funding.

But.

I also thought that being an academic had something to do with teaching. Like, that maybe 1/3 of your time would be devoted to preparing, delivering, and developing instructive materials for students (the other 2/3 to research and administrative duties). And, in my happy little bubble of wonderfulness that is the way I imagine academia to be, I thought that GOOD teaching would be valued by the university that hired me.  My line of reasoning therefore was this: demonstrate solid teaching experience on your CV and this would be considered an important and good thing during the hiring process – all other things being equal (publications, awards, etc.), a strong teaching portfolio could move your CV to the top of the pile.

Apparently I was wrong: it doesn’t matter.

Am I THAT off base? Is it only in my dreams and imagination that there are universities/colleges that place equal (or at least close to equal) emphasis on strong research abilities AND strong teaching abilities? Surely such places exist?

Teaching is important to me; it is something I enjoy and take pride in being good at. I take seminars or workshops when they’re available; I read things; I observe good instructors/lecturers when I can find them and do my best to pick up some of their good habits; I ask questions of those I respect; I ask my students what they want and what works for them.  I honestly believed that these efforts would not just be personally rewarding (which they are), but that there would also be a professional payoff.

Someone, please tell me it matters.

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***This same person happens to be someone who is on my list of “really good teachers”

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Edited to add:

Relevant blog posts from elsewhere, just to add to the discussion:

Female Science Professor

Crooked Timber

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