As a future professor I expect to be questioned

I connected so much with Parker Palmer’s piece, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited.” There were so many quotes I thought were so thoughtful, but I will start with a few of my favorites.

“… I decided to become a professor, animated in part by the belief that education can humanize us”

“… taught to value intellectual detachment above engagement with the world. They refused to recognize what they knew”

“Does education humanize us? Not nearly often enough. We have yet to uproot the myth of “value-free” knowledge, and hence we turn our graduates loose on the world as people who know, but do not recognize that our justice system often fails the poor, that corporate logic usually favors short-term profits over sustainability, that practical politics is more about manipulating public opinion than discerning the will of the people, that our approach to international relations is laced with arrogance about our culture and ignorance of others, that science and technology are not neutral but rather means to social ends.”

I had a conversation with my roommate this past weekend about what I want out of (potentially) becoming a future professor. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and what I want. Whether I want to be at a predominantly teaching institution or research institution. I don’t believe I should have to choose and compromise one for the other. I want to be able to do research with the necessary resources and my job is to teach students. I am passionate about both and I don’t want to go to an institution that won’t support me doing both. To most people when I tell them that they tell me to go to a teaching school, but I think I want to work at a research institution because I see the teaching there being more of a challenge. I see large public institutions being where I can get the most diversity of opinion and backgrounds in the classroom (diversity being amongst the college going population, which is inherently not diverse, but hopefully slightly more diverse than the private institutions). My teaching strategy is what I think to be pretty straightforward. While I would be teaching in a geosciences department, I don’t expect to be teaching geoscience majors, I expect art history majors, business majors, economics majors, biology majors.

I couldn’t care less if my students become geology majors. That’s wonderful if they feel connected to the material, but I don’t feel that that is my job as a future professor. My job is to get them to think and critically engage with what they are learning and the wealth of literature and knowledge that I’m asking them to engage with. My job is to get my students to think. My job is to create members of society that can critically consume what they are being told, not just blindly accept. That can recognize bias and think about how they think and in what ways they may be biased. I want them to question, I want them to question me, I want them to question their peers. Memorizing the geologic time scale front and back doesn’t tell me anything about their ability to critically think. If they can take context clues and put those together with how they’ve learned to think, that’s what I care about. Science is driven by observation and asking questions, that’s what I expect of my students.

There is so much more I could say about Parker Palmer’s piece, but I will leave it here for the sake of space. 🙂

7 thoughts on “As a future professor I expect to be questioned

  1. Bringing emotion back into teaching and being ourselves has to be one of the best themes of Palmer’s. I think students enjoy it when we are ourselves in the classroom. Although, I do have to watch my humor in that case. The seem to instantly check out when we get up in front of the class and ramble through the facts.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post! I really appreciated the paragraph on your approach to teaching and the things you want to shape and be present in the learning environment. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I really, really relate with what you stated about choosing a research vs teaching institution. I want to be able to do both as well!! Since I attended a small, liberal arts college for my undergraduate education, and this is also how I discovered the field of entomology, this has long been the route I wanted to take. It would allow me to mainly teach but still dabble in research, mainly for the purpose of teaching students how to conduct research. However, I really like the atmosphere of an R1 institution. Much like you said, it pushes me and challenges me to conduct the best, highest-level research I can. At these institutions, teaching is DEFINITELY more of a challenge. Great post!

  4. “My job is to get them to think and critically engage with what they are learning and the wealth of literature and knowledge that I’m asking them to engage with. My job is to get my students to think. My job is to create members of society that can critically consume what they are being told, not just blindly accept. That can recognize bias and think about how they think and in what ways they may be biased. I want them to question, I want them to question me, I want them to question their peers.” Yes, yes, and yes! Higher ed needs you, now, more than ever. Let’s talk about the R-1/Liberal arts dichotomy, which is becoming more complex all the time…

  5. Selva, those quotes also resonated with me! I had to choose some others based on the theme of my blog haha. I think having to choose between research and teaching is dehumanizing in itself. Both have a great impact in the world and I agree why do we have to choose. I also appreciate how you connected your teaching, what you hope to get students to think, question and how that ties back to research. I hope we move away from having to choose when finding a job is already stressful enough.

  6. Good afternoon Selva,

    You are so correct in your post! I enjoyed reading about how graduation doesn’t humanize us. It’s up to each of us to take what we can from the situations we are exposed to and make the best of them!

    Thanks!

    Cheers, Lehi

  7. I wish more instructors shared your viewpoint. Research may be an obligation and a priority, but some instructors forget that their role in the classroom is just as important if not more. I hope you will continue to promote critical thinking in your classroom because it is something that is lacking in the education system.

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