Time to help college professors be better teachers
If we want more students to succeed in college, we have to turn full attention to the craft of university-level teaching. What’s at stake is not only increasing graduation rates but providing a quality education for those who, a generation or two ago, might not have seen college as possible.
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The majority of new college faculty wants to teach well – and many do. But they won’t find on most college campuses an institutional culture that fosters teaching. To be sure, there are rewards for good teaching – awards, the esteem of students – and most institutions, even research universities, consider exemplary teaching as a factor in promotion. And some campuses have programs that provide resources for instruction, but they tend to be low-status and under-utilized operations.Skip to next paragraph
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Teaching has special meaning now, as the authors of the report on student success point out, because close to half of American undergraduates are a bit more like those students in my humanities class than our image of the traditional college student fresh out of high school.
Particularly in the community colleges and state colleges where the majority of Americans receive their higher education, students are older, they work, and many have children. A significant percentage are the first in their families to go to college; somewhere between 40 to 50 percent need to take one or more remedial courses in English or mathematics.
To do right by these students, we need to rethink how to teach them. This does not mean rushing to electronic technology – a common move these days. On-line instruction of any variety will only be as good as the understanding of teaching and learning that underlies it.
We can begin by elevating the value of teaching and creating more opportunities to get better at it. For those students who need help with writing, mathematics, and study skills, there are tutoring centers and other campus resources. Faculty should forge connections with these resources but realize that they, too, can provide guidance and tricks of the trade – like taking good notes – as well as an orientation to their field.
In my experience, students at flagship universities and elite colleges could also benefit from this approach to instruction. Just ask them.
Doing such things does not mean abandoning our subject area but rather enhancing it and opening a door to it.
Working with those humanities students on their notes helped them develop better note-taking techniques. But as we studied technique, we also thought hard about how to determine what’s important – and how to make someone else’s information your own. All this involved talking further about Greek tragedy, about literary interpretation, and about what the humanities can provide for us.
What’s at stake is not only increasing graduation rates but also providing a quality education for those who, a generation or two ago, might not have seen college as possible.
Mike Rose is a professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and author of “Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education.”