How Not to Reward Outstanding Teachers

But while the goal of rewarding good teachers is laudable, the awards can sap the morale and productivity of faculty members who try too hard to receive them. For young professors in particular, paying too much attention to teaching awards is dangerous. […] A professor whose goal is to win a teaching award can be tempted to focus on using varied and creative teaching styles, rather than on student learning and its assessment. The abundance of recent literature on teaching styles, with its endless debate about the effectiveness of different strategies, exacerbates the problem. Adopting different teaching strategies is terribly time-consuming. Junior faculty members must decide if it is worth it. —David G. EvansHow Not to Reward Outstanding Teachers (Chronicle)

It is very tempting to teach everything the same way I taught it last time, shooting for polish and refinement rather than radical re-vision.

This year in my American Lit class, in response to the unusually high stress signals the students were giving off, I turned what had been on the syllabus as the final date for the term paper into the due date for a rough draft. I pulled an all-nighter marking those drafts and turned them back to students within a few days. In a class of about 25, only four students took advantage of the opportunity to revise.

It takes about a half hour for me to read and comment on a term paper, if I assume the paper is a draft and that the student will use my comments to revise. If, on the other hand, I am simply assigning a grade, I can easily sort the papers holistically — Susie’s paper is better than Billy’s, which is not quite as good as Frankie’s — and then go back and assign grades based on whether each paper meets the assignment criteria.

A handful of others did benefit from the extension, in that they didn’t bother to turn in the rough draft, and only turned in the final draft — but that means I had to mark their papers closer to the end-of-term crunch. And some students didn’t need to revise because they were happy with the As or Bs their draft earned them. But a significant chunk — including most of the ones whose papers took the most time for me to evaluate — decided they would rather live with their C or D.

Was the benefit to those four students worth the extra effort I put into the assignment? One one level, yes. On another level, I’m not so sure. I knew I couldn’t force the students to take advantage of the opportunity, but I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by simply writing a letter grade on the draft, and then simply let those students who were unhappy with their grade make an appointment with me to discuss it.