Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Teachers vs Professors

Dear #edchat participants:

Yesterday we chatted about "How can K-12 and higher ed work together to promote positive change in education?" Well, you chatted, I listened while trying to do four other things. I'm sorry that I missed it, because I'm pretty sure the K-12 teachers involved in the chat outnumbered their higher ed counterparts by a large margin.

There were a lot of criticisms leveled at higher ed professors, that we are poor teachers and are stuck in a stone ages when it comes to ed tech. But, while most universities (as it was pointed out) claim evaluate their professors on teaching, research and community service, they actually spend a serious amount of time judging a professor's research output while just making sure they have taught and done something that remotely resembles community service. Research in your field is king. You get a PhD in your subject area, be it biology, literature, nursing or music.

Because we are not rewarded for improving our teaching, we don't do it. Our time is spent on administrative duties, our research and, yes, teaching.  But we have been told, you need to do research to get tenure. So we make research our priority. Our PD? Going to conferences in our field, to learn about the latest research and findings. We are expected to stay on top of what's going on in the field we teach.  Ed tech? What's that? Will it help me get tenure? No? No, thanks!

So I admit and agree that most university professors could learn a thing or two from the K-12 teachers who participate in #edchat on twitter. But, please give us credit for being experts in our fields. When professors complain about unprepared students coming into their classes, they are usually talking about two areas: not having what we would consider the basic knowledge/skills in that area and not knowing how to be independent learners ("good students"). Facing a room full of disinterested and unprepared students just makes us mad. We think we spend too much time teaching the students what they should have learned in high school and not enough time teaching what we are passionate about. That passion? It shines through, tech or no tech.

Professors are all good students: independent learners, highly motivated self-starters and passionate. If we weren't, then that dissertation would never have been written. Trust me. You choose grad school in part because of a passion you have for a subject and the right skill set (enjoy reading/writing/doing experiments).  We know our area, we love our area, and we want to share that knowledge. When we think of ed reform, we don't think about HOW you teach, we think about WHAT you teach. Because we love WHAT we teach. How we teach it is really a secondary concern.

I ask you, K-12 teachers, do you consider yourself experts in pedagogy or experts in your field ? Which do you think is more important? Is your PD exclusively in the latest ped or ed tech? Or do you brush up on deepening your knowledge and understanding of a subject area? If you teach English, have you ever done a grad class, not in ed, not in teaching English, but English literature or writing?

There is a division of labor that needs to be overcome. Yes, university professors need to work to be better teachers. But can K-12 become better at the subjects they are teaching? You can ace all of your education classes, but if you don't do well in the subject area classes, should you be allowed to teach that subject?  I agree with all of the suggestions about exposing K-12 students to the wonderful work and research professors are doing, to inspire them. But that should also extend to the teachers, so that they can remain current in not only how they teach, but what they teach.


  1. To see the transcript of the #edchat I am referring to, please go to

    Thanks for the great work.

  2. Thank you for sharing this because I really feel that we often forget the focus aimed at those in higher ed. I really think that those who have not taken classes in English at the grad level do struggle to understand the difference. But I think you are just as valued, and I appreciate having conversations with those in higher ed about what my kids are lacking when entering classes at the collegiate level so I can work on it...


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