By Jerry Green
I recently came across an interesting paper published in Teaching Philosophy, “The State of Teacher Training in Philosophy”. This paper, authored by David Concepción, Melinda Messineo, Sarah Wieten and Catherine Homan, investigates the training given to graduate students in philosophy programs. You can access the paper here or here. I thought the results were worth sharing here; they’re not exactly surprising, but still worth highlighting.
The tl:dr version of the paper is that the state of teacher training in philosophy isn’t very good. The vast majority of grad students and faculty agree that teaching is an important part of one’s professional obligations and that PhD training should include training in pedagogy. But most grads get little explicit training, and what they get is often (i) not very targeted or practical, and (ii) run by faculty that have no particular expertise in pedagogy. The paper concludes with some recommendations for improving the state of things, focusing mainly on what they call “high impact’ training, which basically amounts to structuring pedagogy courses more like seminars, with required reading and assignments.
One particularly interesting facet of the paper is the disconnect between how competent people feel about teaching versus how good they feel about the training they got. Basically, people tend to think that they didn't get sufficient training on how to teach, but feel that they're sufficient teachers anyway.
There are some reasons to be a bit hesitant about fully endorsing the results of this survey: the authors note that the respondent demographics don’t quite match what other surveys have found, for instance, and there’s always the worry that the sample is skewed in favor of people concerned enough to fill out the survey in the first place. But I don’t think this makes a big difference. The numbers may change a bit, but probably not enough to affect the overall results.
The main thing I wanted to do was simply bring this paper to everyone’s attention. But I also thought I’d open the floor to see if any of our readers had particularly good experiences with their own pedagogy training. At UT Austin we have a required course, usually taken in the 2nd or 3rd year, that involves making a few syllabi for intro level courses. Many of us have found this useful when we’re put in charge of our own class down the road. And there are often university teaching and learning centers that offer training and certification, which you can use to supplement what you get from your department. I've done a couple of these certificates, and I've found them useful, but I've heard others report the opposite. But like many of the paper’s survey respondents, the bulk of my pedagogy education has come from a combination of (i) copying role models, (ii) trial-and-error, and (iii) outside research (like, ahem, here). So I’d certainly like to hear more about how folks do things at their own institutions. It might also be nice to hear from anyone who’s been involved in changing the way their department runs things. Have any tips for how to improve the state of teacher training in our own departments?