Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
When I first came to the University of Maryland, I was an anxious freshman, nervously walking to class on my first day. I was about to get a taste of what was in store for the rest of my college career. In my classes, I was introduced to new, specialized courses focused on developing skills in my field of choice. But soon, I discovered the grave truth: Many professors have limited interest in teaching students the foundational course material to be successful.
In introductory course sequences, I had a difficult time adjusting to the pace of the college curriculum. If I had poor professors in these crucial classes, it would have dissuaded me from attempting a degree in my field. It is time this university gives all students the guarantee of a good education in this transitional period by mandating lecturers, instead of professors, teach introductory courses.
The impression that a student develops toward a major in their college career can be heavily impacted by their performance and experience in introductory courses. Ultimately, my experience with introductory courses was crucial to making my decision whether to stick with my major. However, many students are faced with professors who may not be trained to teach, and in some cases, don’t want to.
The crux of this issue is the process of attaining a professorship. Professors often do not need to have teaching credentials before beginning because it is assumed they will be excellent teachers because they’ve developed a deep knowledge of their intended subject through their education and experience in their field. However, this is a faulty assumption. A comprehensive meta-analysis compiled insights from numerous studies to determine more than 1,000 factors that can affect teacher outcomes.
How much the teacher knows about the subject was found to have a relatively low impact on the teaching quality. However, attributes such as integrating current coursework with the student’s prior knowledge and providing interventions for students’ various learning needs were more important. These are all skills that are, at most, tangentially related to a teacher’s knowledge of a subject.
This baffling disconnect between the process of becoming a professor and the skills needed to teach students is alarming. Thus, as an institution, having professors teach low-level courses to students goes against its mission to provide a top-tier education. Professors are often not the most qualified people to teach, so why are they allowed to teach undergraduate students who are just beginning to learn about their fields?
Allowing lecturers to teach all introductory courses could greatly alleviate unsatisfactory teaching quality. Lecturers, like regular professors, are required to obtain postgraduate education in their field. However, their primary role after being hired is to teach courses to students.
Lecturers spend a lot of time meticulously developing effective curriculums that teach students the core concepts of the course material. And their efforts do not go unnoticed by their students.
In my low-level computer science sequence, all of my courses were taught by lecturers. I had an immensely positive experience in these classes, and I credit them with helping to instill my passion for computer science. They helped me deeply understand foundational material I will use in later classes.
Sure, many professors who aren’t lecturers are both excellent teachers and researchers. However, I had better teaching experiences with lecturers during my time at this university.
Teaching and research skills have long been systemically conflated by academia. Knowing the material does not inherently make someone qualified to teach it to new students. Bad professors can turn promising students away early on. This university can make professors’ and students’ lives easier by letting the people specifically hired to teach students teach introductory courses.
Ravi Panguluri is a sophomore computer science and statistics major. He can be reached at email@example.com.