Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Teaching Practices

How do you teach university students? Are professors in a university trained to teach students? I don't think professors are ever trained to teach students either in the US or in India. In India, they are never trained to teach. Usually, professors pass out from graduate school with their dissertations, work for few years as adjunct (temporary / ad-hoc) faculty and then get full-time tenure. In the US, they have something called student feedback and I guess it is taken into consideration while keeping people on full-time tenure. In India, there is nothing like student feedback. So, one passes out from graduate school or college with an M.Phil. or Phd degree, clears something called the NET examination conducted by the University Grants Commission, and applies for an adjunct position. Meanwhile, one tries to get few papers or book reviews published. Sometimes, you don't even need a single publication if you are appearing for an adjunct position. The moment you get an adjunct position, you are the proverbial scapegoat because you are given a lot of work and you are not expected to speak at department meetings. Moreover, as an adjunct, you cannot choose the courses that you might teach.

After few years, the adjunct teacher is given a full time tenure as Assistant Professor. The faculty member is supposed to give answers to the questions asked in an interview, where the department chair, two experts, the vice-chancellor and a visitor's nominee are present. Usually, there are forty to fifty applicants for a single position and there is no guarantee that if a person has worked as an adjunct for the last few years, s/he might be absorbed there. In fact, getting into a full-time tenure does not depend on favorable student feedback or dedication to work. It depends on the composition of the commitee that selects you as well as some publications that you might have to show. However, I have known of people in the country, where they have been selected even without publications or the quality of publications can be quite varied and rather suspect.

However, no one is ever imparted training in how to be a good teacher. In the US, students pay a lot of money as fees and they are given lists of books to read at the beginning of the semester. They read those books and come to the classroom. There is a lot of internal assessment and students ask a lot of questions to the teacher. In India, one goes to the first lecture, tells the students about the books in the syllabus, then asks them to buy the book. After a week (which is usually being very optimistic), the students might have bought the books. There is certainly no guarantee that the students might have read those books. They read it slowly or rather a number of faculty try to spoonfeed them.

I have seen a number of faculty members all over the country spoonfeed students.It is a platter. The most popular faculty members are those who make it so simple for the students that sometimes might not need to read the books or might just read them later. Moreover, the examination system leaves a lot to be desired. Students can easily cram up questions asked in previous years and guess the questions. The entire system is such that it encourages mediocrity and punishes brilliance. It is in such settings that our Indian faculty members work and they often excel globally. You must salute the spirit of those Indian faculty members who excel in their professional work. They are quite rare.