Emory Report

 September 8, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 3


Teaching has many dimensions; it comes in different shapes, forms

Excellence in teaching is a widely held value among Emory's faculty, students, and administrators. The principles that follow address different dimensions of teaching as it has been and continues to be affirmed at Emory. They are abstracted from hundreds of conversations and thousands of daily encounters, and should be the subject of further conversation and debate. We hope that reflection on and further articulation of these fundamental ideals will help to transform the institutional structures and cultural forms that still would resist or deny their importance.

Frequent were the comments that underscored the complexity and multidimensional character of teaching. If we are to affirm and improve teaching-let alone measure and reward it-we must begin by constantly keeping in view the many different settings in which teaching occurs and the many different forms instruction may take. When we think of teaching, we need to recall circumstances as varied as these:

An instructor looks up from her notes to scan the faces before her. She notices the slumped postures of the baseball-capped figures in the back row and decides to give special emphasis to the points she makes in the last five minutes of her oral presentation.

An assistant professor looks away from his computer, searching for the phrase that will convey to medical school admissions officers the particular quality of intelligence and imagination that a former student has demonstrated in two biology courses the professor taught.

Over the hiss and clanking of the defective heating system, an associate professor strains to hear a shy student in her seminar who is-for the first time since the course began three weeks ago-volunteering a response to the reading.

As the incidents above and those described throughout this report suggest, the forms of teaching are many. The conventional image of teaching, however, suggests a classroom where one person holds forth before a group of listeners. The listeners try to capture the essential points of the oral presentation in the form of written notes. They are tested periodically on their grasp of the presentations and of material assigned to be read outside of class. The speaker's teaching only takes place at the time of the presentation, and the success or failure of the enterprise is adequately measured by a standardized evaluation form filled out by students at the end of the course.

According to this conventional image, the teacher typically practices his or her craft three hours per course per week. The rest of the time the teacher is doing something else: doing research for written presentation to an audience of other scholars or participating in the daily round of committee meetings and reports without which the wheels of the institution would grind to a halt. These other activities are perceived to have little to do with teaching-indeed, to be in unfriendly competition with it. Depending on the discipline, the teacher in this model works at teaching anywhere from three to nine hours a week.

In a recent reflection on the reality of teaching, Emory faculty member Marshall Duke writes to the contrary:

One good way to determine when I am teaching would be to examine all the things that I do and decide which of these things "count." A glance at any professor's calendar will, of course, always include classes. But it also includes planned and unplanned meetings with students, library work in preparation for class, reviewing and updating notes, serving as faculty adviser to various campus groups [and] Freshman Seminar meetings. . . . Of these hours, I estimate that between twenty-five and thirty hours [a week] are spent in some form of direct student contact. . . .

It is in fact not possible to differentiate between time spent teaching and time spent not teaching; [it is not] as if one activity [were] separable from another by some observable, sensible, or conceptual boundary. . . . I now think that I am teaching every minute of every day, whether actively involved with students or not, whether they are still undergraduates or have already completed their degrees and physically left the campus.

We urge the Emory community to accept Duke's view as a challenge. We need to think of teaching as something that takes place in offices, in hallways, in laboratories, over phone lines and via e-mail-in many, if not all, of the interactions between teachers and students.

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