Recently, I spent way too much time (like a few weeks) working on an application for a teaching award. Why bother taking so much time away from the dissertation? Well, the line on the CV would be a good one. (Particularly given the types of teaching-heavy jobs we’re constantly reminded that we’re being groomed for in my dept, as I bitched about in my last post.) And it doesn’t hurt that the award comes with a pretty hefty check. (See? Even the noblest broke grad student isn’t above stooping to being motivated by crass monetary considerations from time to time.)
But the application process ended up being one of those things where if I'd realized how much damn time it was going to take there's no way I would've started it. But once I'd put in the first week or so's worth of work, I needed to keep going to make the beast good enough to have a shot at winning. You know, so the first week's worth of work wouldn't end up being a waste of time. And so on. And so on. Ad nauseum. Ugh. This is what we call, in the philosophy business, throwing good time after bad. Okay, maybe that saying's not unique to the philosophy business. But you get the drift.
The finished product was over 20 pages long. I think I'd have found the whole writing process much less frustrating if I hadn't spent the entire time consumed with the feeling that I was just talking out of my ass. It was abundantly clear to me that my ideas about what makes for a good teacher didn’t line up so well with the judging panel’s. Apparently, all that is required of the best instructors is possessing a willingness to spend as much time as humanly fucking possible seeking feedback on one’s teaching methods and then revising said methods in light of said feedback. That’s it. Get feedback. Revise. Get more feedback. Revise more. Ad nauseum.
Let me be clear: what I find so off-putting about all this is not the thought that revising one’s teaching methods in light of feedback couldn’t be a useful way to improve one’s teaching. Of course it could. What’s bugging me is the implication that this revision dance is all one has to do. As if being a great teacher has nothing to do with being smart, a good communicator, a good motivator, and excited about the subject matter. Nope, nothing at all to do with any of that.