Does teaching matter?

I’ve written about teaching already this year, and I find myself writing about it again now, in the hopes of getting some opinions from other grad students.

I’ve been the teaching assistant for a lab the past few years. When the powers that be restructured the lab in a major way last year, I made some fairly significant contributions to its new format, in terms of the material being taught and how it was presented. I am tweaking things even more this term, based on feedback from last year’s students and on some new pedagogical approaches I’ve learned.

I think that the current labs are definitely better but not best, and would really benefit from a thoughtful and thorough revision and updating. So I got this idea that I would approach the chair of our department and offer my (paid) services to do the work, perhaps over the summer since my field component won’t be so heavy this year. Not knowing whether this was even remotely feasible, I went and spoke to my advisor and told him my idea.

I mostly expected him to say: “It’s not really appropriate for a student to take on that kind of role,” and I would have accepted that. If that didn’t happen, the alternative I’d imagined was something like, “Cool. This would be a great course development/teaching experience. Approach the chair and check it out, but make sure you’re still getting your research/publications done in a timely way,” which I would have perceived as both awesome and perfectly reasonable.

But what I heard, and what surprised me, was this: “No one reading your CV is going to care about something like that. It’s not a good use of your time. Write and publish papers. That’s really all that matters.***”

I’m well aware of the importance of publications as the “currency” of academia, and their role as indicators of one’s research activities. I get it. I have a half-dozen manuscripts lined up (in my head, anyways), and want to get them all at least in press/under review before I have to start worrying about securing post-doc funding.

But.

I also thought that being an academic had something to do with teaching. Like, that maybe 1/3 of your time would be devoted to preparing, delivering, and developing instructive materials for students (the other 2/3 to research and administrative duties). And, in my happy little bubble of wonderfulness that is the way I imagine academia to be, I thought that GOOD teaching would be valued by the university that hired me.  My line of reasoning therefore was this: demonstrate solid teaching experience on your CV and this would be considered an important and good thing during the hiring process – all other things being equal (publications, awards, etc.), a strong teaching portfolio could move your CV to the top of the pile.

Apparently I was wrong: it doesn’t matter.

Am I THAT off base? Is it only in my dreams and imagination that there are universities that place equal (or at least close to equal) emphasis on strong research abilities AND strong teaching abilities? Surely such places exist?

Teaching is important to me; it is something I enjoy and take pride in being good at. I take seminars or workshops when they’re available; I read things; I observe good instructors/lecturers when I can find them and do my best to pick up some of their good habits; I ask questions of those I respect; I ask my students what they want and what works for them.  I honestly believed that these efforts would not just be personally rewarding (which they are), but that there would also be a professional payoff.

Someone, please tell me it matters.

______________

cross-posted at www.thebuggeek.com

One response to “Does teaching matter?”

  1. Kristina says:

    I love the honesty in this post! I also hope that these extra (and personally rewarding) experiences like teaching and leadership matter and make a difference, in the end, and that its not *only* publications that drive everything! I am also sure there are different positions/jobs out there that put an emphasis on different things, teaching being one of them. So, don’t lose hope!!! 🙂

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