An article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed caused so much consternation at my university that there is now a lecture series based on it. This long and confusing piece can be summarized as “teaching is a worthless drain on your time, so don’t do it.” I find the suggestion appalling and the arguments used to support it bizarre.
Here is one of the very weird stories that the author shares to support his anti-teaching philosophy:
An undergraduate in a course for which I was a TA. . . came to me struggling with a particular assignment. I eagerly laid out an ambitious program for extra assistance, study, and readings that would, I promised him, if he fully applied himself, not only reveal the wonders of the course material but almost certainly guarantee him a great grade. His response shocked me: He was taking five classes, working 30 hours a week, his mother was in the hospital, and he was majoring in another subject. He was taking this course only for a distributional requirement.
In other words, as he put it, “I don’t have time for anything but a C.”
What should have shocked this person should have been a realization that his professional persona is not managing to evoke an ounce of respect in the students. If a student thinks it is appropriate to insult an instructor in this way, this means the instructor is in urgent need of taking classes in pedagogy.
The assistant professor sat back and reflected on the narrative of tragedy and frustration in which he had participated. A year before, he had joined a prestigious program at a research university. Within weeks, a doctoral student had come to him seeking an adviser and, their interests being similar, they had agreed on a match.
At a PRESTIGIOUS RESEARCH university, an assistant professor who has just been hired directs doctoral dissertations? Seriously? I never in my life heard of anything of the kind. Are there really weird students who take such an enormous gamble with their careers? And the departments allow that? This is nothing but an issue of idiocy feeding off more idiocy. Last semester I directed senior assignments of our graduating seniors, and I did not do a very good job (which I duly reported to the Chair and the personnel committee.) I’m trying to learn but it is taking time and effort. The idea that a recently hired Assistant Prof can direct doctoral research is simply bizarre.
There is a point when the perennially failing advisee, whom nothing or no one seems able to rescue, would be better helped by your being a kind, encouraging, nonjudgmental, and creative exit counselor than by your continually accepting one more missed deadline or badly written draft.
This sounds like the author of the piece sees no alternative to being the students’ Daddy (both constant acceptance and nonjudgmental counseling are parenting strategies, not a way of building a professional relationship among adults). The possibility of simply failing a student does not even seem to occur to him. It becomes even more obvious that the author of the article is incapable of seeing his students as adults when he says the following:
Take a typical case of a student who is struggling in your class. On the positive side, he comes to your office hours—always. He seeks extra help outside of office hours. He asks lots of questions in class. And you are doing good: The problem child is improving.
A student might be problematic but if s/he is in college, this means there is no way s/he can possibly be a child.
After reading this article, I remain deeply convinced that Chronicle of Higher Ed has a goal of presenting academics in the worst possible light. It invites writers who consistently represent the worst that the academia has to offer. If I had read this publication before deciding to become an academic, I probably would have made a different choice.