Friday, October 15, 2010

Thoughts on teaching

It's funny - and sad - how this semester my largest people problems are not students but colleagues.

First off, the whole mess with the not-living-up-to-expectations recent hire. It's going to be ugly, I suspect. We may see an epic flounce, leaving the rest of us to unexpectedly cover classes we should not have to.

Now, one of my other colleagues comes to me: "You know X? How he pushed for this forced schedule in that class we all teach, and how he pushed for certain assignments? He isn't doing any of them. He's not keeping up with the schedule, he's not doing the assignments with the class. His students are unprepared for lab because they haven't had that topic yet."

And you know, my main reaction? A great big "FFS."

I don't have the energy for this. All my energy right now is directed at teaching my overload, working with my research students, doing my own research: in other words, what I am supposed to be doing, what I am paid to do.

Yeah, yeah - it's a problem. If students are unprepared for labs, that's a serious issue. (And that tells me - since I teach a lab section for that class - maybe I need to intensify the pre-lab instructions a bit more, rather than giving a rough outline and assuming they've seen it in lecture, simply because I know MY lecture students have.)

My colleague also noted: "He cancels class a lot. And he lets people out early. And he softballs things." Okay, hold on there, kimosabe. I don't need to know this. We're getting peer review of our teaching in the coming year and if that happens, it'll come out in the wash. But I don't like gossip and I don't like hearing bad things about other people second-hand.

But he went on: "He gets really high teaching evaluations" (True: as part of the "peer review" we do see each other's portfolios, and his average scores are a bit higher than mine). "And he's doing it by slacking off and pandering! If we ever go to a merit-pay system here, he will be rewarded and people like you will be hurt!"

And again: "FFS." I told my colleague what my dad always told me as a kid: "Life's not fair." And I told him, "Merit pay will not mean they cut the pay of people; it just means that some of us will get smaller raises." (And frankly, I do more research than the person in question, and I INVOLVE STUDENTS IN RESEARCH, which I think will actually count for more).

But you know what? As much as I'd LIKE to have really high evaluations, I would definitely NOT want it to be because I felt I was pandering to the students, doing junk like cancelling class for the first day of deer or turkey season, or letting them out early on Fridays, stuff like that. I have high standards. The students who are really serious appreciate my high standards: I regularly have people coming back from, e-mailing me from, or seeing me at meetings after they've gone on to grad school, and they thank me for the preparation I gave them. For every complaint of "too much math!" I get in ecology, I get someone else coming to me and saying, "Thank you for emphasizing life tables so heavily; I'm taking a population biology class right now and I understand the material better than many of the other students because of what you taught."

To quote my father again: "It's better to be right than to be popular." I think what I am doing is the right thing: keeping high standards, not cancelling class frivolously. (I cancel if I am ill - either if I'm fairly sure I'm contagious or if I know I'd be useless teaching (like if I have a migraine). Or I cancel once a semester to go to scientific meetings. But that's ONE day.)

I may not be the most popular person with the general student populace, but I think among the serious students, I'm fairly well respected. (And I think it's preferable to be respected and not "loved," than to be "loved" and not respected, when you're a prof.)

But you know? The whole deal with this guy slacking off: I'm not going to worry about it. One thing I have learned in recent years is that there is exactly one person whose behavior I have influence over, and that's my own. So all I can do is keep doing what is right, and not worry about what other people are doing; to trust that things will work out.

My colleague did say he was going to slack off (well, he didn't use those words) a little bit, and tried to persuade me to, as well. But that's not right! Just because one person is being a slacker and we think that's wrong, and we think it's unfair that we may be working harder than he is - that's no reason to screw over the students. And I told him as much, that what was important to me were the students learning what they needed to know, and feeling like I was doing a good job. And for me, the high level (some might say, too high) level of diligence and responsibility I bring to teaching give me the feeling that I am doing a good job and doing what I am supposed to. And if merit pay comes, and I don't get raises that are as big because I'm criticized on evaluations for being a hard-ass, that's just how it will be.

1 comment:

Kate P said...

Not that you need me to validate what you want to do, but I find it's true for myself: As much as I get frustrated to hear or see other people slacking off, I can't say, "Yeah, well, I'm not going to care, either." Because it's not in our nature and our conscience to do that, and it hurts us far more to go against ourselves than to let others do whatever they're going to do (that we can't control).