Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Most students can probably attest that the range of teaching ability in college professors is very wide. During my four years at the University of Maryland, I’ve had professors who meticulously plan each and every lesson, and I’ve had others who walk in and essentially just let the class run itself. While I’ve seen students succeed and fail in both types of classrooms, there needs to be a better way to bridge the disparity. College-level professors must receive ample training to teach.
Looking at the typical career path of a university professor, many probably have a decent amount of experience teaching undergraduate students by the time a college hires them. It’s possible they taught undergraduate classes while pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate, though that isn’t a guarantee that they received any formal training.
At this university, it’s unclear how much teaching experience is actually required in order to become an associate professor, which is a tenure-track position. The Office of Faculty Affairs states that an associate professor “shall have qualities suggesting a high level of teaching ability.” In comparison, lecturers, who are instructional faculty and don’t get paid to do research, must have “at least five years of full-time instruction” in order to become a senior lecturer.
All professors should have formal education training. It doesn’t need to be as thorough as training to teach in primary or secondary education — which is different because you aren’t teaching adults — but it does need to cover the basics of how people learn. If professors teach without formalized training in how to teach, we place the onus on students to be able to learn and succeed no matter the conditions.
As undergrads, it’s expected that the pinnacle of our learning will occur in upper-level courses in our majors. These higher-level classes, which are typically taught by tenure-track professors, are meant to be difficult — there’s a reason that some lower-level classes in STEM fields are called “weed-out” courses. It’s expected that if you can reach that point, you are intelligent enough to progress past.
But it’s not really about intelligence, is it? Because if higher-level courses are taught by someone without formal teaching training — and sometimes without any motivation to teach other than out of necessity — then it becomes increasingly difficult to succeed as students. Professors who haven’t been taught about different learning tools, such as scaffolding or modeling, or how to effectively engage students, are doing a disservice to students who have the potential and capacity to learn in the right conditions.
Professors need to be taught how to teach, just like anybody would need to be trained to do a specific job. We shouldn’t treat teaching undergrads as second to doing research — it does a disservice to students, but it also reinforces the stereotype that teaching is an easy profession.
There are so many instructors at this university who do have formal teaching training, and it shows — when you actually know how to engage your students and communicate new knowledge, you do your part in making a college education truly accessible.
Liyanga de Silva is a senior English and women’s studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.