So then profess! Enlighten your students with the marvelous task you have undertaken, the ideas that inspired you, that you have dedicated your life to studying.In my perhaps naïve optimism, I am inclined to be a bit less cynical than this, not least because for me, and for colleagues I know, there is a genuine interaction between research and teaching. Some of my best research ideas emerge in teaching, and my teaching often provides the occasion for testing new ideas, or developing new ways of communicating older ideas, to talk to students about work in progress. One of the things I love about teaching at Duke is that the students are so bright, so engaged. I often come back from class thinking about some interesting question or observation that a student put to me. I might even dare to suggest that the best kind of research, especially if we are talking about the humanities, comes directly out of teaching, and the best kind of teaching emerges from the professor's research.
I know, I know, you spent years researching for that Ph.D., and before arriving here your main concern has probably been research.
There is little for you to gain from professing; Research, not teaching, determines your career advancement. Only disastrously bad student evaluations will hinder your upward mobility, an easily avoidable fate so long you reserve low grades only for the truly indolent and hand out evaluations during the last day of classes.
Still, as professors you have an obligation to teach us, your students.
Perhaps I might throw in too that this week, after the summer hiatus, I found myself really looking forward to returning to teaching. Yes, it gives me less time to write, but it gives me no less time to think, to communicate, to engage, all of which are elements in research in the humanities. And somewhere like Duke gives one the luxury of being able to teach right in one's major areas of interest. It is not as if one has to teach courses in subjects that one has no primary competence or expertise in. Furthermore, Jordan underestimates just how important teaching is in hiring practices at Duke. Bear in mind that one of the major tests for incoming candidates is to present a lecture in which you need to be able to communicate effectively to undergraduate students, and the search committees, in which I have participated, spend a lot of time thinking about the candidates' teaching record (or potential). It is by no means the case that people are hired on research alone. Jordan later writes:
Professors, I implore you: Engage your students. Change the world not only through erudite publications but through the spread of wisdom to the men and women you have the luck to influence.The first paragraph I endorse, and the challenge is accepted, and encouraged. The second paragraph quoted is, I think, one of the most useful things Jordan says. I well remember receiving papers back, as a student, with only minimal guidance about what was good, bad or ugly in them, and I think it is vital that we try to give the fullest feedback possible. I will certainly be bearing this in mind in grading later this semester. The only thing I would want to add is that I am always happy, and I know that I am not alone in this, to provide detailed feedback in appointments with students. Many students, usually in my experience the ones with As and A-s, do not come for that feedback, but the door is always open.
Do not return papers with a short comment and a letter grade, leaving your TAs to fill in the gaps. Write a paragraph about our work, about our thoughts against yours. If our only feedback on a paper is the letter grade, how can the goal of our learning be anything other than achieving a high letter grade? Before muscle can grow it must be torn. Provide resistance, be engaging, be demanding, and do not accept complacency.
Thanks, Jordan, for a provocative piece. One of the things that makes Duke a great place to teach is that it is full of students, like you, who take the academic experience so seriously, and who want to get the best out of their education.