Four Costs to Universities that Could Be Avoided When Faculty Are Supported in Their Teaching

Question: Should colleges and universities make sure that one of the ways that faculty are supported in being good teachers is to have a coaching relationship with someone?

In this article, we’ll look at four costs to consider when faculty are not supported in teaching as well as they could. Although it’s complex because there aren’t singular factors that can be “fixed,” there are aspects that can be improved and everyone benefits.

1. Beginning faculty who are not supported in becoming good/excellent teachers may receive (will receive) scathing comments on their student evaluations.

Sidebar: Disparaging remarks are hardly private at this point. Rate My Professors and other similar sites put student opinions about their professors on full display.

Although some faculty use negative comments to spur them on to improvement, the research indicates that many young faculty members blame the students and decide it is not worth focusing on their teaching because “students at this school/in this generation/anymore just ______ (don’t care, want a easy A, are poorly prepared, aren’t up for any kind of rigorous learning situation, etc., etc.)” Most of these beliefs are not true but they give faculty members a “pass” in their own mind, which helps them protect themselves from the pain of feeling less-than-successful in the classroom. Alternatively, some faculty may obsess over poor evaluations, and spend excessive time worrying about them. This can lead to ineffective work in their areas of research or community involvement.

This next factor may hit close to home for the administrator you are asking to support your coaching request:

2. Administrators’ time is consumed by student complaints about professors who are teaching poorly. Even when faculty in a department are all top-of-the-line teachers, there is the occasional student who complains. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

Chairs, deans, and student affairs professionals can easily recount the toll on their time when there has been a particularly poor teacher in a unit. While this has always been true, it is even more significant among current cohorts of students. Depending on the role of the person who is hearing the complaints, their time may also be needed to work directly with the faculty member, although in other instances, that is not part of their skill set and so the time is spent contacting other people who might be able to address the issue. And depending on the university, the problem may or may not be rectified no matter how many student complaints there are.

3. What about lawsuits? Many years ago, there were few lawsuits filed that were prompted by poor teaching. This is no longer true. Although some of these lawsuits end up being dismissed, prior to the dismissal, significant time, attention, energy, and money have been poured into the process. As we have seen in recent years, the discovery process unearths emails and social media posts. If there is a string of emails or other correspondence — over a period of years(!) — about a particular professor’s teaching that have not been addressed in some way, it may be that this is used to strengthen the case of those bringing the lawsuit. No one is served by allowing situations to get to this point.

Sidebar: The current politically-motivated attacks on faculty — some of which result in lawsuits — are in a different category from what is being discussed in this article. These attacks are not related to poor teaching but rather are prompted by certain groups trying to silence professors who disagree with their agendas.

4. Lack of knowledge about how to teach students who are different than you are and who are different from one another. In many cases, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) is an area where there may be funding for coaching that supports excellent teaching. It is not uncommon for the highly-educated people who teach at colleges and universities to be woefully unaware and uneducated about teaching diverse learners, providing equitable — for all — learning experiences, and designing and maintaining inclusive learning environments.

What else can you think of? The four factors above are not an exhaustive list.

Watch this space for more articles on this topic and/or take a look at one or more of these publications, which you may access free: https://meggin.com/coaching/#makingtheask

About Meggin McIntosh

Helping people reframe their limiting beliefs is a big part of the joyful work I do as a coach. Sometimes I offer group coaching in addition to working with individual clients. It’s amazing to watch people generate reframes for a belief that has held them back in the past.

I am thankful every day.

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