‘Teaching is something I do on the side; I’m not really interested in it. My interest lies with research’, my teacher confided to me. We were discussing the course didactics. We disagreed. In our discussion, we delved deeper into the issue of what we really desired and expected. I was taken aback by the fact that this teacher openly confessed to his lack of interest. In retrospect, I understood: in PhD trajectories or research positions, teachers are selected based on their motivation and talent for research. Teaching is merely an additional task.
Sometimes they do well, but certainly not always. Every researcher can teach. But teaching well is a different thing altogether. It is a skill. To interest, inspire, motivate, clarify, challenge and, sometimes, confront is a talent in itself. That is what we need teachers for. For mere knowledge transfer, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries provide plenty of options such as papers, PowerPoints, books and videos. Teachers are more than that and can truly make a difference.
To interest inspire, motivate, clarify, challenge and, sometimes, confront is a talent in itself
The underlying principle in automatically linking research and teaching is the idea that the researcher can discuss his own research. After all, who knows more about the research than the one doing it? This must result in good education. However, if something funny occurs in my life, this does not mean I am the best person to be telling the story. A dramatist or comedian is a better alternative. Moreover, for many lectures, the ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ principle is invalid. Courses are about a certain domain and only a few lectures within a course focus on the teacher’s own research. In broad or introductory courses, none of the lectures does.
I have never understood the unquestioned combination of research and education. Research requires patience, abstract thinking, and the ability to write a scientific publication. A skilled teacher needs a sense of humour, quick thinking, and a whole lot of insight into human nature. Aren’t these characteristics at odds?
Investing time in teaching does not lead to publications, status or funding
Our system leads to an acceptable base quality but is not designed to foster teaching excellence. Investing time in teaching does not lead to publications, status or funding. In course and teacher evaluations, this quality aspect is also excluded. The university should actively select on teaching excellence. Acknowledge that teaching well is an art. Dare to put talented non-science graduates with the skill to talk about the subject matter in front of a class. More passion for education in education!
Steven is a master’s student of Economy and Governance and enjoys playing squash. He is always open to a game of squash and a good conversation. You can reach him by email.