Have you ever taken a course on empirically supported teaching strategies? Unless you were a teacher in your life before graduate school, my guess is you've received relatively little, if any, formal instruction in how to teach effectively.
That's ironic for a discipline that requires extensive training in other critically valued qualities of the professoriate, including research methods and statistics. In fact, APA requires doctoral-level psychology programs to provide students with an opportunity to "acquire and demonstrate substantial competence" in key areas, including "the breadth of scientific psychology, its history of thought and development, its research methods, and its applications," according to its Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology. Similarly, emerging psychologists are expected to understand and apply psychological science to their professional practices in the form of empirically supported treatments. But where is the emphasis on science in our teaching of psychology?
It's particularly important for psychologists to have top-notch teaching skills since, in addition to becoming clinicians and researchers, many psychology graduate students go on to become college and university professors, where teaching represents a substantial portion of their academic responsibilities. College teaching requires more than just a mastery of psychological principles and pedagogy. Indeed, teaching is an entire profession grounded in educational research that pinpoints ways to enhance student learning. Elementary and high school teachers typically spend years completing coursework, plus didactic and internship opportunities that sharpen their teaching abilities. However, college teaching has traditionally required little more than expertise in a discipline. Graduate teaching assistants may receive brief teaching tutorials at the beginning of the year, but it is hard to imagine how one could condense so much relevant information into a few hours.
Perhaps this is one reason why some universities are beginning to offer evidenced-based teaching programs for graduate students. For example, the University of Iowa's Graduate Certificate in College Teaching program provides doctoral students with the coursework and supervised teaching experiences they need to become successful college and university instructors. To earn the certificate, doctoral students take three classes on such topics as course design and facilitation and the use of emerging technologies to enhance student learning. They then complete two practica in college teaching in which they apply what they have learned to their own classrooms and disciplines. Finally, the doctoral students create electronic teaching portfolios that demonstrate their teaching skills, which include sample syllabi, statements of teaching philosophy and samples of assignments.
Gaining this certificate gives students a competitive edge as well as teaching expertise—skills that are critical in a tight job market. Outstanding research and a strong publication record are no longer enough to garner tenure-track positions at top universities. Faculty search committees also seek candidates with demonstrated records of excellence in college teaching. Thus, doctoral students who skillfully develop their teaching abilities set themselves apart from other highly qualified candidates.
So how can you acquire expertise in college teaching? First, find out if your university offers certificate programs or courses in college teaching—even if your department doesn't offer such a program, you may be able to enroll in one offered elsewhere at your university. Second, consider creating your own teaching portfolio. This will not only provide a tool for marketing yourself to potential employers, but the process itself will very likely make you a better educator. Finally, APA's Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology) offers several online resources for instructors who want to improve their teaching.
Remember that the three hallmarks of distinguished professors are research, teaching and service. Excellence across each of these domains will undoubtedly help set your career on the fast track to success.
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