I first stepped into a college classroom as the sole instructor in the summer of 1987. I was 23 years old. My then department chair and now professional colleague Karen Vaughn had more confidence in me than I had in myself, but I survived those two classes. I’m now about to start my 29th year of doing the work that I love.
I was involved with two recent discussions that caused me to reflect about the work that I do and how I do it. I want to share a few of those reflections as we start a new academic year. I hope they are inspirational to the teachers, especially the post-secondary teachers who read the Freeman, but I also hope they are helpful to high school students (and their parents) who are thinking about what matters when they choose a college.
The two main things I want to talk about are the relationship between teaching and research and what it means to “lecture” in a college classroom.
Some college professors will say that engaging in research and other forms of professional scholarship aren’t necessary to be a great teacher. I disagree. I don’t think you can be a great teacher unless you can meet two conditions:
- You are willing to subject yourself to, and ideally pass, the same sorts of critical evaluation processes to which you subject your students. When we ask students to write drafts, take our feedback and incorporate it into a revision, and then present us with a revised and polished next draft, we shouldn’t be asking anything of them that we are not doing ourselves. If that is how we think knowledge is developed and conveyed for students, it should be true of us, as well, which means we should be submitting our work to the test of peer-reviewed journals.
- Your ability to convey and create genuine knowledge in your area of expertise has been confirmed by your peers. What is it that you are teaching students if you aren’t part of the community of knowledge creators? What legitimacy do the ideas t…