WTF: Teaching

We are so excited to start our September series on teaching for all of you abd2phd-ers who are just starting, or soon to start, the academic year.

The majority of PhD students in the United States attend research universities of some sort. Research universities, as the name implies, are focused primarily on research. This creates something of a paradox. Teaching is done at research universities because it brings in a great deal of money but the higher up you go in the university hierarchy the less teaching is a priority.

This paradox can be particularly difficult to navigate for graduate students for several reasons.

First, no one will teach you how to teach. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. In general, the larger the course you teach is the more likely that there will be some sort of training before they let you around the actual students. If you teach a section or two of a massive course like English composition or public speaking the need for grading standardization (and to minimize student complains) often leads programs to institute training for new teachers. If, however, you go to an institution where grad students aren’t allowed to teach until after their prelim exams then it’s more likely you’ll be asked to teach your program’s survey course, handed a couple of the past syllabi and expected to handle it.

Second, if you actually like teaching and talk about liking teaching colleagues and faculty may write you off as a less serious researcher. It doesn’t matter that this point of view is patently ridiculous. Let’s just put it this way, “You’re so good at teaching. Have you thought about applying to teach at private high schools?” is less of a compliment and more of an indictment.

Third, some institutions will throw you into teaching as the instructor of record from your first day on campus. Other institutions won’t let you lead a class until you’ve passed your prelims. There are justifications for both methods but the second one has the unfortunate result of newly minted ABD students being thrown into the new responsibility of teaching just as they are struggling to figure out how to write a fudging dissertation. It can be stressful.

In our series on teaching we are going to cover all three of these topics to the best of our ability. We will start this week with some teaching resources, including some lessons you can borrow.  Second, we will cover how to be good at teaching and how to like teaching without sacrificing credibility as a researcher. Finally, we will discuss strategies to balance dissertating, lesson planning, grading, and all the things.

If there’s a particular subject related to teaching you want to see covered this month leave a comment or send us a message!


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