By Gerson Moreno-Riano, September 14, 2009 in Pedagogy and Teaching
“A-quality faculty always hire A-quality faculty. B-quality faculty always hire B-quality faculty. But C-quality faculty NEVER hire A-quality faculty.” These were some of the most memorable parting words of one of my colleagues as she parted from one academic job to another. She was trying to emphasize the importance of hiring excellent faculty for she was convinced that bad hires are not only difficult to remove but have long-term negative consequences on future hires. This made me think about the question which this blog’s title poses: can C-quality faculty ever be turned into A-quality faculty?
At the most recent American Political Science Association, I and several other ISI fellows and colleagues discussed and debated this question. And we did so in light of some of my colleagues’ reservations about Ken Bain’s recent book on great college teachers (a book about which I have blogged here). Some of my colleagues were convinced that Bain’s work was pedagogical cyanide and leftist propaganda (I wondered if my partial support of Bain made me a poison peddler and poster child of the pedagogical left!) while others were a bit more reserved in their comments. The main concern appeared to be that Bain’s pedagogical approach would turn an A-quality professor into a C-quality one thus robbing students and jeopardizing the entire teaching enterprise.
I thought long and hard about this argument both at APSA and since that time. And I am more convinced now than ever that one of the virtues of Bain’s study and conclusions is that it can help to turn a C-quality professor into an A-quality one. Bain’s approach demonstrates how the best faculty approach education not just solely as ideas and information but as involving the whole person. Great faculty are conscious of the entire classroom environment and the entire socio-cultural context from which students emerge. And they employ pedagogical tools that make the most of the environment and the students' context. In other words, great faculty ensure that everything around them and their students is put to the service of educating minds.
C-quality faculty consider education as the conveyance of information whereas A-quality faculty consider education as the crafting of the whole person. Bain and the great teachers he studies understand this. Education is not indoctrination or close-minded pedagogy but it is a creative presentation of truth. This is the difference between C-quality faculty and the highly sought after A-quality ones. And it is this creative presentation of truth that we should pursue in our own teaching and that we should convince our colleagues to pursue and model. C-quality faculty can indeed be improved with a little help from Bain and friends.