Accountability and Faculty Time
What counts as teaching?

By Sherryl H. Goodman, Professor of Psychology


 

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Every spring, faculty in my department are required to list their accomplishments for the year on our annual report. For me, this yearly ritual raises a problematic set of questions about the ways we as faculty are asked to account for our accomplishments in teaching, research, and service. So much of the more nuanced contributions we make, it seems, fall through the cracks of such rigidly categorical documents.

Despite administrators’ statements about the importance of teaching, I am skeptical about the extent to which we at Emory consider the quantity and quality of non-classroom teaching. How can I begin to explain to my chairman, deans, and others how much more of teaching happens outside the context of what is typically considered “teaching”?

On my annual report, under the category of “Teaching,” I list my graduate and undergraduate courses. I teach three courses since I have a course reduction to compensate for the time I spend as director of the clinical training program, one
of the doctoral programs in the psychology department. Also, under “Teaching,” I list the number of students I had working in my lab and the number of honors students, advisees, and graduate students I’ve mentored and supervised in the past year. Do these numbers adequately capture my teaching? I don’t think so. Does quality count? And I don’t mean just the standard Emory College students’ course and instructor ratings of individual courses.

Similarly, under the category of “Research,” I list the papers that I have published or presented at conferences. When students have been co-authors, as is often the case, an astute reader might infer that some teaching went on in the course of preparing those papers. Yet in my mind probably more teaching and learning went on in preparing those papers than is ever accomplished in the context of a course. And the level of satisfaction for me is immense.

Yet how do we account for those less categorical, less quantifiable teaching and learning encounters? For the past several years, these activities for me have included requiring a research project in my undergraduate class, advising and mentoring four graduate students, supervising one senior honors student per year, supervising a dozen undergraduates learning how to do research in my lab, and advising students considering going to graduate school in psychology. A quick glimpse at my calendar any week of the year would reveal at least twice as many hours scheduled for these activities as for classroom teaching. Much of this teaching is hands-on, working side by side with a student on some aspect of a research project, one-on-one or in a small group of students working on a study together. The setting may be my office or my lab. We may be seated around a small table or at the computer or in front of a video monitor observing mother-baby interactions. Often the small groups include both a few undergraduates and graduate students. Through this “vertical team” approach, I encourage the graduate students to add mentoring of more junior students to the set of skills they are learning.

Given the intensity of these relationships, it should not be surprising that they do not end when students graduate. Thus I also have the pleasure of continuing to advise and mentor former students as they progress through their graduate education and careers. For example, this past year, I was honored when a former undergraduate asked me to help him with several of the decisions involved in the process of applying for a doctoral program in clinical psychology. This involved my writing a letter of recommendation and sending it along with the requisite checklists to a dozen programs, several e-mail exchanges, a few phone calls, and one visit. This fall, he will enroll in a prestigious doctoral program in clinical psychology. At another level, I continue to co-author papers with and advise a former graduate student who is currently in a post-doctoral training position.

None of these activities takes a break when classes end. This summer, I am advising a Summer University Research Experience student, a participant in an Emory program through which undergraduates explore their interest in doctoral work in science. Having graduated my honors student this past May, I have also begun introducing my new honors student to the lab. I have begun phone conversations with the graduate student whom I successfully recruited this past year and who will begin working with me in August. Seamlessly flowing into summer also is my advising and mentoring of my current graduate students. With various combinations of these students, I am teaching specific aspects of research design and methods, clinical interviewing, data entry, statistical analyses, and preparing posters and publications. And I won’t be setting foot in a classroom until fall.

Mentoring. Advising. Supervising. Countless hours. Immensely satisfying relationships. Hopefully meaningful contributions to these students’ lives. Can administrators do a better job of accounting for this out-of-classroom teaching? I believe so. First, we need a formal procedure for evaluating the quality of this work. It will not be an easy task to develop procedures and tools to evaluate “excellence in teaching” with this broader perspective. In 1997 the Commission on Teaching at Emory took steps in this direction by detailing the “elements of good teaching” in terms of the outcomes desired of the students and outcomes expected of teachers (Appendix A of their Report). Although other aspects of teaching are mentioned, however, the focus is on classroom teaching, and the list would need to be broadened to encompass advising, mentoring, and supervising.

Second, faculty commitment to this aspect of teaching needs to receive more than just haphazard or token consideration in tenure and promotion decisions and annual reviews. Chairs and deans can take steps to show that out-of-classroom teaching “counts.” The teaching portfolio, recommended by the commission’s Subcommittee on the Evaluation of Teaching, would be a useful tool if paired with formal inclusion of assessments of such teaching in decisions about appointments, promotion, tenure, and salary levels. At minimum, forms need to be developed for student evaluation of these aspects of teaching. The Subcommittee also recommended exit interviews or written testimonials from current and former students. Overall, in the evaluation of teaching, the attention to and status of out-of-classroom teaching should be equal to that
of classroom teaching.

Other steps can be taken to “count” this broader conception of teaching. Deans and chairs might provide workshops and other training opportunities to help faculty develop their skills in these aspects of teaching. Acknowledgements through a variety of mechanisms would indicate that the university values these activities. While there are no simple solutions, reconceptualizing teaching such that all aspects of teaching “count” has the potential to greatly benefit the quality of education at Emory University.