Thursday, June 06, 2013

At The Chronicle: Don't like teaching? It's okay to fake it.

At The Chronicle, "I Don't Like Teaching. There, I Said It" is part of the "Do Your Job Better" series. (Huh?)

The advice that "Sidney Perth" gives is pretty straightforward: if you don't like teaching, fake it and don't worry about it.  Liking teaching isn't the same as being a good teacher, he says.  Good teaching behaviors make a good teacher. You don't have to like it; you just have to care about it.

Part of this rings true.  I can write a good administrative report, but that doesn't mean I like to do it.

I like to teach. I like the process of discovery, both mine and the students', and I like the energy of a good class discussion. There's an excitement to that process, which is probably why the MOOC idea is so threatening to me. Not every class is going to be great, not every student is going to appreciate what you do, but enough do to make the whole process worthwhile.

But why would you spend your life doing something that you really don't like? This is the part of the article that fascinates me. It can't be the low pay, or the long hours, or the Hunger Games-type competition for positions, or the sitting-over-a-dunk-tank feeling you get every time some fool on the internet or in the legislature decides that the humanities are the problem with the good old US of A.

In fact, I'd disagree with one part of his premise, which is that not liking teaching is like not liking puppies. If you profess too great a love for teaching, especially if you're female, that can be scanned in some people's minds as "isn't serious about research." Is this article really a humble-brag about loving research instead of teaching? I don't think it is, because he doesn't mention research.

Do you like to teach? Would you do it even if you didn't like it?


sophylou said...

i'm a little nervous saying this, but I was always ambivalent about teaching, and secretly preferred research. The two teaching jobs I had, both full-time non-TT jobs, were 4/4; one I took as an ABD, and I finished my diss. while teaching 4 60-person courses a semester and being on the job market. At one job I was discouraged from doing any research. I finally left altogether because so much of my energy was going into something I wanted to like but did not love, with, really, nothing left for what I knew I loved. And, of course, I was nonTT: if I didn't get a book together, I wasn't going to be able to get a TT job, so it was becoming clear that a job with a lower teaching load was not in my future.

I've often wondered if I would have felt differently had I ever had a lower teaching load. I originally went to grad school because I wanted the blend of teaching and research; I liked how the two played off each other, and I didn't want to separate that. But in my case it was pretty clear that I was not going to get a teaching job where I was required to do research, and for me, that was a problem (yes, I actually wanted "publish or perish," because I really wanted to write).

Teaching as a librarian makes much more sense for me. I still teach and I like the teaching; sometimes I miss "regular" teaching, and I might teach a course on the side at some point. As an academic librarian I have library privileges. It's a lot harder to find time for research trips, or large chunks of unstructured writing time, but it's also a 9-5y job, so when I'm off, I'm off and can use that time for my own scholarship.

Bardiac said...

I like most of teaching: that planning, working with students, trying to get them to understand stuffs, helping them work through complex texts, watching the lightbulbs when they come. I hate grading, mostly.

I think I'd be in deep trouble if I didn't like teaching!

Anonymous said...

My SO doesn't like teaching, but that's the only way to do research. He doesn't even attempt to pretend he does like it - he is known as being very demanding, and doesn't do fixed office hours, extensive written feedback (although there's a physical reason for that), or pretty much any other good "practice". Should note he has a permanent job, so this is relatively low-risk.

Oddly enough, he gets some of the best feedback, and students often ask for reference letters or projects. Good students go on to top PhD programs or jobs.

P said...

I love teaching. It's therapy for me (not always, nor even most of the time, but enough of the time). It keeps my research/scholarship meaningful and it brings the most tangible 'rewards' this profession has to offer (me at least).

I work at a liberal artsy place and our load is a humane 2-2-2 (quarter system), so although it values teaching more than other institutions (insofar as excellent teaching rivals solid research for TNP) it doesn't bog us down with teaching the way some schools might. So there's room for balance. Without that balance, I might be singing a different song right now.

But, yeah, I like teaching and find true meaning in it.

Flavia said...

I found that a really interesting column, too. The part I liked best involved changing the language from "loving" to "caring about": if teaching is something you value and think is important, you can still do a good job even if you don't "love teaching." I agree with that. I don't think one can be a good teacher if one doesn't care about and isn't committed to teaching--but the rhetoric of "love" is problematic for all kinds of reasons: a) people might love it (as the author suggests) for narcissistic, performative reasons; b) "love" can imply a natural aptitude, something one either has or doesn't and that isn't susceptible to change or improvement over time; c) as we all know, "loving" one's job is sometimes used as a reason for unjust treatment (why would you want more pay/better benefits/to go on strike? don't you do it for the love of it?).

But I agree with other commenters that the amount of "love" one feels or needs to feel probably differs by institutional type. I do love teaching, or at least many aspects of teaching--but I don't love it enough to want to teach a higher teaching load than I do (3/3), or to believe that I'd be a good or effective community college or high school teacher.

Z said...

Value teaching, enjoy teaching things that I am in a position to teach well, sure.

But "like" or "love" teaching? I don't know that I have access to even considering whether I do. Those sentences, "I love to teach," have very specific meanings to me including:

- Wanting to be the one in charge (not me)
- Wanting to be the one who knows the most, for sure (not me)
- Wanting to talk, not listen (not me)
- Wanting to already know, not learn (not me)
- Justifying dislike of research and writing (not me)
- Wanting to teach elementary subjects, skills acquisition courses (not me)
- Liking to emote (not me)

I can't help it -- these are the characteristics liking/loving teaching call up for me and I cannot relate.

I went into academia for blend of research and upper level, field specific teaching, like sophylou.

Also, like Flavia, I am loath to say I love it because I need to get paid. It is not something I would do for free, or that I would pay to do (and many academics do say that about teaching).

Finally: I rarely meet someone who unequivocally says they love teaching and who also seems to value it and respect it (a different thing) or who actually does it in a way that respects the students, the material, or the institution. Those who love teaching tend to be the ones who think they can teach a field of whose contours they are not even aware, etc.

So these are my neuroses about this. I'm not saying I dislike teaching, I am saying I refuse to be associated in any way with those who say they "love" it for the kinds of reasons I allude to here.

Janice said...

I like teaching - I find that it helps me cement some insights and arguments. I don't always love teaching. As the essay points out, there are parts of the process (particularly assessment or dealing with student appeals) that are really onerous.

I've also found that as my official teaching load went down about ten years ago, my actual teaching work ratcheted up as class sizes ballooned. All the worst parts of teaching -- more work to assess, greater distance from the students -- less of the best. *sigh*

undine said...

sophylou, as an academic librarian you seem to have the best of both worlds (except for the research trips). Four 60-person courses: no wonder that took all your energy!

Bardiac--watching the lightbulbs is one of the best parts.

Anonymous--your SO sounds as though he's turned what could be a negative (not liking teaching) into a positive. I wonder if it's easier for a male professor who's excellent at research to pull off the "demanding, not extensive feedback," etc., than it would be for a woman professor.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I teach because it pays the rent while I do my research. I think it is important, but I hate doing it. Well, that's not exactly true; I like the actual process of teaching itself. What I hate are student whiners, student emails about stupid things, students who don't work, course evaluations, and grading. The actual *process* of teaching is ok and I wish more students would let me teach, rather than babysit.

I am always, always looking for a lower teaching load. It sucks all my energy (I am an introvert who's very good at faking) and makes me irritable. I wanted a research career but I don't have enough grant money. On the good days, teaching can leave me cheerful, but those days are rare and my classes are huge.

I also don't get to teach anything related to my research, which makes it a zero-sum situation rather than complementary.

nicoleandmaggie said...

(#2 likes teaching and has much less obnoxious students and smaller classes than #1, but would also be happier with say, a 1/1 teaching load)

Z said...

"It sucks all my energy (I am an introvert who's very good at faking) and makes me irritable. I wanted a research career but I don't have enough grant money. On the good days, teaching can leave me cheerful, but those days are rare and my classes are huge.

I also don't get to teach anything related to my research, which makes it a zero-sum situation rather than complementary."

Yes -- I do not have quite such a stark situation but I relate to this. With a different teaching load and assignment I would be more of a cross between P and Anon's SO.

Actually I think I will emulate them both next year -- one for some kinds of classes and the other for another kind! I like this plan! :-)

Fretful Porpentine said...

I like teaching most things most of the time (and Shakespeare pretty much all of the time, given a halfway-decent group of students). I think it took me several years to get there, though -- I remember being wretchedly nervous before most of my classes in grad school, partly because I wasn't very good at it yet and partly because it just hadn't gotten comfortable.

And I hated, HATED almost every minute of Basic Comp, and I'm pretty sure it was written all over me, because I'm not that good an actor. I felt bad for the students -- they deserved someone better than me -- but at the same time I was always angry at them, even knowing intellectually that I should be angry at the system. I really can't imagine staying in the profession if I felt that way about most of my classes.

sophylou said...

I don't mean to paint a totally rosy portrait of academic librarianship -- there's stuff/language that drives me crazy, and we are more vulnerable to a certain dehumanizing technoutopianism than I think professors are. But, teachingwise, it's a better fit for me.

I also had a pretty horrific experience teaching summer session while in grad school -- the mother ship of grad challenges -- and I remember my advisor sitting with me after and saying that the most dedicated teacher would have wanted to quit teaching after that experience. That was important, because I never felt judged by him for leaving.

I agree with Z -- there's a lot of baggage around the idea of "loving" teaching. Some days I loved it; some days I liked it; other days, not. I did, and do, care about teaching, and I enjoy supporting it.

On a brief, different note: I just had a history article accepted! Yeah!

sophylou said...

That should read "grade challenges." Have been celebrating.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I once overheard a student at LRU saying, "I just want to teach. I don't care who I teach, I don't care what I teach, I just want to be a teacher." This person was planning to move over to the school of education, because the in-major teacher certification wasn't working out---I don't know if the grades weren't high enough, or if The Talk had been delivered by one of our T-Cert people (The Talk in which you learn that your personality is just not right for high school teaching). The statement gave me chills, and I really wished this person would go do something else, because, like Z, I associate that kind of "love of teaching" with egotism and a love of power, not a love of light bulb moments. And at higher levels---definitely in college, and I think in high school as well---love of subject is probably more important than feelings about teaching itself. I may not "love teaching," but I most certainly convey enthusiasm for my topic, which I believe correlates with "good teaching" (or the perception thereof).

Contingent Cassandra said...

I think I'm more or less on the same wavelength as Flavia and Z (and several others): I value teaching, I value (trying to do it well), I find parts of it rewarding, but I don't think my attachment to it is the same as those who say they "love teaching," who, in my experience, tend to fall into one of two (mostly but not entirely distinct) camps: (1)the performers/narcissists, for whom teaching is all about them, and having a captive, if not rapt, audience; and (2) the strong extroverts, for whom it's all about the interaction.

I'm an introvert, and would happily spend my life writing and researching, with only very occasional forays out to talk about my ideas with others, but I get by reasonably well as a teacher with a 4/4 load, because I don't dislike interactions with students (I just find them -- even the good ones -- draining rather than energizing), and I really do find the whole world of ideas, and introducing students to ideas, fascinating (and also, of course, frustrating at times). I'm probably not as good at conducting productive class discussions as somebody more extroverted would be (though I'm not bad, especially if I've got students who are good enough to take a good set of materials and questions I've prepared in advance and run with them); on the other hand, I *am* quite good at pushing students to be independent thinkers, questioning the received wisdom and making (or re-making) knowledge for themselves, because that's the way my mind works. If I were in a job that included service, I'd probably also be pretty good, as many introverts with logical tendencies are, at thinking about the big picture: curricula, programs, etc., and how they fit (or don't fit) together.

You wouldn't want a whole department full of people like me, but I don't think you want a whole department full of people who "just love teaching" (for either of the reasons mentioned above) either.

What you definitely don't want is a whole department full of people who thinking teaching is unimportant, uninteresting, and/or beneath them. Oddly enough, some people who "love teaching" seem to reinforce just these attitudes in their colleagues. I suppose extremes have a tendency to breed extremes.

undine said...

P- that sounds like the perfect balance. When I was teaching a 4/4, as sophylou says, it was harder to enjoy it because the whole process was so tiring.

Flavia- that's a good distinction between "loving" and "caring about." "Loving" has a neediness tinge to it, as you say, and any kind of love expressed for it can be used as a "why do you care if you get a raise" stick to beat us with.

Z - I see where you're coming from with those concerns. Maybe it would be fairer to say that we love "communicating" with students or "discussing a field of knowledge" with our students. Loving to teach in the abstract does have those problems you mention.

Janice- Agreed. Assessment and student appeals- they're part of the job but not the fun part, for sure, and teaching to large classes isn't as enjoyable as teaching smaller ones.

undine said...

nicoleandmaggie - About the introversion: I'm an introvert as well. I read one time that while introverts often hate making small talk, they can really open up if it's a topic that interests them. I think teaching has some of that function because we're all talking about a topic of general interest (heh).

Seriously, I hate it when, in social situations, people will ask me a question and I'll try to answer it, only to realize that they aren't listening and indeed have no interest: they were just trying to make me ask them a question. It used to make me angry, but now I forestall it by immediately cutting to the question that will allow the person to talk. My energy and interest aren't wasted, and the person gets to hold forth, which was the point of the conversation to begin with. In a class situation, there's none of that.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I thought I commented before, but maybe my comment got lost somewhere. Anyway - I used to love teaching, but team teaching is killing it for me. There's a committee meeting for everything, it seems. Plus, the grade grubbers, the snow flakes, and the lack of autonomy (despite being in a TT job) all make me somewhat sour about teaching these days. I think that if I were able to teach my specialty more than once every two years and wouldn't have to team teach that I'd probably like teaching a lot more than I currently do. Love it? Maybe not, but like it better? Probably.

Of course, I hate grading. But it's preferable to all the ridiculous politics I have to deal with in my job. I had no idea when I was an adjunct just how much in-fighting and passive-aggressive behavior could happen behind the scenes. Maybe it would be better elsewhere. I really think that actually physically being in the classroom is the easiest part of a TT job. The outside-of-class stuff is a serious pain. The research is good -- just the institutional stuff is awful.

Historiann said...

Sorry to be late to the party. I love teaching--now--and because I do a reasonable amount of it (2-2), and I get to teach pretty much whatever I feel like, and 7/8 courses are directly in my field.

I think you can train yourself to be a good and conscientious teacher even if you don't like it. But, seriously, who wants to work that hard? Especially on an aspect of your job that at most institutions will take most of your time, and will count for very little in terms of advancement? Bleh.

I'm no masochist. I'm all about the pleasure and the fun of my job. There are so few tangible or other rewards of value, I just don't understand why anyone would consent (or volunteer) to be miserable like that.

undine said...

Fretful Porpentine--Basic comp was more challenging for me, too, but mostly because of some students' attitudes.

sophylou--congrats on the article! Talk about deserving to celebrate!

Dame Eleanor--that sounds creepy, as if the person needs to be the center of attention at all times and thinks that teaching will accomplish this.

Fie, team teaching does sound exhausting in that way: you don't get to do what you want, and you have to burn time on meetings to get everything straightened out.

Historiann--I can't understand that, either, unless someone got a teaching job and then felt stuck. Maybe the author got roped into the "it's my duty to teach since I have a job and so many people don't," which is one of the comments that people have left over at CHE when someone writes about tenure.