People who can’t do, teach – this was the response from a family member when I announced I was moving into university teaching. I was and still am shocked by this dismissal of the profession that can play such a fundamental role in people’s development. I was brought up to respect my teachers. My parents, to my horror, even invited them to dinner. Sure, there may be some teachers working in primary and secondary schools who are in dire need of career counseling, but the standard of pre-service training and performance monitoring must have reduced this number from what it was twenty years ago. Perhaps the barb in the comment was more directed at higher education level teachers?
Many of you may have experienced the same ‘teaching’ at university as I did: experts who perhaps could do, but certainly couldn’t teach. These were professors who would lecture for an hour or more on a topic while the students fervently took notes in the hope that something they recorded would be useful when it came to an assessment. Some of the lectures could be fascinating, some sleep inducing, but most of my learning took place when I struggled through researching and writing a paper alone.
University has changed a lot in the last decade, the process dubbed massification has resulted in a 53% increase in the number of students entering university since 2000. Students no longer come from an elite top section of the population. Competition for funding from student fees means universities must now show their graduates are employable.
These changes translate to a transformation in the role of university academics. Diversity in the student body means that there are more students who need support in meeting the demands of tertiary study. Gone is the expectation that students will merely graduate. They must graduate with a raft of attributes beyond content knowledge. University teachers on the whole are not trained teachers. They may have valuable research or industry experience, but they need training in how to facilitate learning, how to help high school students make the transition to university and how to develop students’ non-discipline skills like teamwork. At all levels of education, ongoing teacher development is key to positive outcomes for students.
How will my relative respond now? If teaching was despicable, how bad is teaching teachers?
Melanie works in teacher development at RMIT University Vietnam. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily represent the view of RMIT.