OPINION: Should professors know how to teach?

We have all experienced it: That one professor that seems incapable of teaching despite an obvious passion for their subject. To the surprise of many, the majority of professors do not require any certification or prior teaching experience, and they should not have to.

According to the Britannica, pedagogy is the study of directive teaching methods rooted in psychology. The teacher is the leader of the classroom, altering their approach to best suit the emotional and cognitive needs of their students. 

The word pedagogy literally means “leading children.” 

Jamming pedagogical methods into the higher education system could do a disservice to university students. Students should instead be transitioning out of the structure and familiarity of high school into the exciting unknowns of college autonomy and self-motivation.

According to a statement from Caryn Chaden, associate provost for student success and accreditation at DePaul, each academic unit has its own rules for what qualifications are required of new hires that must be consistent with Higher Learning Commission Guidelines for “Determining Qualified Faculty.” 

“Those guidelines typically focus more on content expertise and do not require instruction in pedagogy,” Chaden said. 

In fact, a recent DePaul alumna now teaching at an Illinois high school says that if universities were to implement pedagogy as a required certification, they “would certainly lose faculty. The 400 and 500-level professor does not need to know how to teach,” she said. This source requested to remain anonymous. 

In elementary and secondary education, pedagogical knowledge is much more critical. Young students are rapidly developing both physically and emotionally as they learn to apply their own learning and apply it to their surroundings. Structure and assistance from their teachers are an imperative stepping-stone to higher education. 

“As a high school teacher, my job is to teach students how to learn,” the DePaul alumna said. 

Freshman could benefit from professors with pedagogical backgrounds as they make the transition between high school and college, however as we go along and gain independence and take charge of our learning, we no longer require the professor as a leader as pedagogy defines, but more so as a facilitator of our learning. 

Pedagogy also focuses on adapting learning approaches to suit students’ needs, but because college students are often in classes with students ranging between the ages of 18 – 25 years old, learning needs, maturity and independence will widely differ and it is difficult to find a method that suits everyone.

However, issues in teaching methods certainly exist in university classrooms and most professors are willing to make themselves available to students to help and hear what they have to say. 

In her undergrad, the DePaul alumna took a kinesiology course with a professor who she says was very intelligent, but her teaching style on some of the material made it difficult for the class to grasp. However, the professor made herself available to students for help. 

According to the DePaul alumna, a situation like this where the legwork is on the students is a good test of their motivation, and that “it’s a different story when the professor doesn’t have office hours and isn’t open to answering questions.”

DePaul also requires students to fill out anonymous online teaching evaluations that become available on D2L during the last few weeks of each quarter.

“Institutions take course evals very seriously,” said the DePaul alumna. “Professors care what students have to say and they want to know how they can do better.” 

For professors, the right balance of what works best for both them and their students requires time and trial and error. Just because this process looks different from elementary and high school methods does not mean it is not the right approach for adult learners.