College & Workforce Readiness

The Teacher-Improvement Craze: Why Hasn’t It Hit Higher Ed?

By Liana Loewus — November 22, 2013 1 min read
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Most of the K-12 education-policy world has spent the last several years obsessing over ways to improve teaching, but as an opinion piece in the The Chronicle of Higher Education noted recently, there has been no parallel movement in higher education.

In fact, “the most glaring defect of our graduate programs,” writes Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard University, “is how little they do to prepare their students to teach.” Graduate students are tasked with helping professors teach large courses and leading discussion sections, but they receive little supervision in doing so. They are often even told, Bok claims, “not to spend much time on their teaching duties, lest it distract them from the all-important task of writing a thesis.”

Graduate programs do have some reasons—though mostly unconvincing ones—for not doing more to help these aspiring professors learn to teach, he writes:

Most professors are not convinced that teaching is a skill that requires formal preparation. Rather, they are inclined to regard it as an art that one acquires naturally and improves through practice over time. After all, that is how they learned to teach.

It’s striking how very different this premise is from the one most K-12 education policymakers and reform advocates are now working under, no?

For his part, Bok probably wouldn’t mind seeing a little of that K-12 energy around teacher effectivess trickle up to colleges and universities. He notes that a growing body of research on “cognition, motivation, and the relative effectiveness of different methods of instruction” make the prevailing higher ed mindset on teaching “increasingly untenable.”

In any case, the piece is certainly worth a read by educators of all types. Would be great to see some K-12 teachers’ reactions below.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.