Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Problem with Bad Teaching

I decided to take a course this semester in P. Chem. with Bioscience Applications.  It's an undergrad course, but I'm taking it for grad credit.  Now that I've been in the course for several weeks, I'm definitely regretting it.  The course material is extremely interesting, so much so that I took this course when it was in no way necessary for me to complete my Ph.D. program.  The trouble I'm having with this course is due to the professor.  I've been in collegiate and university courses for over a decade now and I am quite tempted to say that the professor of this course is one of the worst I've ever seen.

In my undergrad college there was a professor who was an old, conservative guy and who would openly discriminate women and ethnic groups in class.  He was the worst of the worst; my P. Chem. professor is only slightly offset from that ridiculousness.

The trouble I'm having is that my P. Chem. professor is a terrible teacher.  He is absolutely boring.  His voice is monotoned and he doesn't attempt at all to project his voice to the class.  He speaks into the whiteboard during class while writing down formula and running through his lecture notes.  Today in class he literally spoke softly to the board while writing notes for 25 minutes before turning to the class and asking a question (which after a long, awkward and uncomfortable moment of time, someone finally thought they knew what he was asking well enough to dare an answer).  The lectures that this professor is giving are drab and dull and mind-numbing.  I find myself trying to escape the mental-collapse of this course by reading journal articles and playing games on my iPad during class.  Normally, I am most definitely not a student who would use Facebook or avert my attention from a course, but I'm at the point now where I feel no need to cause myself such mental anguish when the professor lacks all enthusiasm and credibility.  

The professor of this course seems like a friendly person.  He may be a great researcher (I can't attest to that), but he is absolutely a terrible teacher.  So, here's my qualm with my situation: if someone sucks at teaching and is not making an attempt to improve themselves in that position, then they really shouldn't be entrusted with the position of teaching at all, especially in an academic setting.  The bigger problem I have is that this is not just "my situation" but one that effects the entire class now as well as every other class this guy has every taught.  Furthermore, such bad teaching creates an environment for other people to become bad teachers.

Not only does such bad teaching negatively effect the education of the students who are attending the course, but bad teaching, in and of itself, degrades the educational system as a whole.  This professor's bas teaching is an insult to the very nature of academic pursuit.  

At our university, we have FCQs (Faculty Course Questionnaires) which allow students to score and comment courses and instructors.  I refuse to even entertain some notion that this professor's FCQs have not shown his poor teaching ability.  Other students must have mentioned his lacking abilities as a speaker and educator in the past.  Indeed, many other students in the course appear to feel just as I do, since we commonly talk on the bus ride back to the main campus about how terrible each and every lecture has been.  Is it possible that the professor's department chair is just overlooking the FCQs?  Is the department chair incompetent in their position as an overseer for the professors?  Where along the line does the university choose to act to correct instances of poor performance in teaching?  And, a much larger question, why do we allow professors to have tenure if tenure itself allows them to perfomr poorly without being reprimanded or moved to a different position?  

Bad teaching must be fixed.  We should remove bad teachers from their position or penalize them until they are willing to improve.  Unfortunately, though, education is a business, and not an altogether well-run business at that.  I am ashamed of my university for permitting bad teaching to continue.  I wonder how many other students around the globe feel the same way.

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