“Successful College Teaching” by Calvin Luther Martin, PhD, a (now retired) professor of history at Rutgers University, starts with a jaw-dropping observation:
My little brother just got his PhD and his first college teaching job. He’s an expert in political science and knows almost nothing about teaching — and that, I tell you cheerfully, is typical of professors beginning their teaching careers. If you’re not a college professor this probably sounds crazy.
It is crazy, of course. But it’s one of those charming traditions of our profession, along with tenure, academic freedom, and bizarre costumes at graduation ceremonies. What can one do about it?
Martin’s answer was to publish this slender, practical and compassionate teaching guide for rookie professors.
It has another, subversive purpose — as a rallying cry for undergraduates who are paying through the nose for stupendously bad teaching from not only beginning professors but senior faculty as well. With American colleges and universities charging well over $60,000 a year in tuition and fees, it’s time for students to grab the bullhorn and proclaim: “We’re fed up with mortgaging our lives for your lousy teaching!”
Remember the classes you blew off or snoozed through because they bored you to death? Or you failed to see their relevance to anything except, possibly, earning an income after graduation? How about the week from hell when, suddenly, in all your courses you were subjected to the Midterm Exam week? (Cramming the night before. Forgetting it all within 48 hours.) Midterms are of course nothing more than academic waterboarding, repeated at the end of the semester in another week called Final Exams.
Martin demolishes these teaching methods.
“He who would assume to teach,” declared Walt Whitman, “may well prepare himself body and mind. . . . He shall surely be question’d beforehand by me with many and stern questions.” Foremost being: “Who are you indeed who would talk . . . to America?” (emphasis added, Leaves of Grass). The same question Martin asks of his professorial colleagues.