On teaching about teaching

Just went to a fantastic talk by Susan Loepp, who won a Haimo Award for teaching this year.  Was struck by her observation that only a very small percentage of a mathematician’s training goes towards teaching, while a much higher percentage of (many) mathematician’s time will be spent teaching.  In my experience, good teachers have cared, both about the subject, and in making sure to impart information on the subject to the student.  The first is only helped by learning more about the subject (though, I suppose there may be those who turn their nose up at teaching *sniff* calculus), and the second is hard to train.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for the results of microeconomics, in particular those where you seek to align goals with incentives.  I think it is hard to do in this case, though.  It is a great thing to have smart people researching hard problems and moving science along.  To reward such a person for putting aside cutting edge research in favor of making an extra worksheet for abstract algebra seems silly.  Also, while I am glad that awards like the Haimo Award exist to celebrate the best of the best, I can’t imagine many teachers decide that they care about teaching because of a desire for this award.

I am not an administrator by any means, but it doesn’t seem like a bad idea for a department to offer financial incentives for those professors who either

1) Perform above a certain level according to student evaluations (whether numeric or prose)

2) Improve from the previous year, to encourage professors to continue to work at getting better

I’d imagine, but would be interested to hear, that the main objection over such a system is the capricious nature of student evaluations.

Some actual math posts coming soon, as the Joint Meetings are drawing to a close, and I prepare to jet off to Palo Alto for a week long conference on “Mapping Theory in Metric Spaces”.


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