I’ve noticed that there are two types of students in this world when it comes to choosing courses: those who enroll for an easy A and those who take a class because it’s interesting. Both factors, easiness and interest, are subjective.
Now in spite of whatever reason you choose to enroll in a class, brilliant professors can regardless greatly transform your learning experience. Professors are capable of not only making their classes enjoyable but also enriching, by focusing on the intrinsic value of learning: intellectual curiosity. A supportive learning environment, fostered by excellent professors, can lead students to academic excellence and a good and sustainable attitude toward learning by mitigating academic burnout along their journey in school and in life.
When a student decides to pursue education, teaching is a crucial component. Learning independently is, of course, an important skill; however, without the means – being clear guidance from professors – students will be left clueless and unmotivated to study for themselves. Therefore, undergraduate teaching, regardless of course level or major, should deliver worthwhile lessons that help students grow academically in and out of the classroom, rather than stifling their intellectual curiosity.
Subpar undergraduate teaching has become normalized in college. Professors aren’t expected to teach students anymore but simply spew out content to prepare students in time for their next quiz, test or exam. School is supposed to be dedicated to “educating” students but has instead become a place where students pull all-nighters just to catch up on the material that was skimmed through the class.
The job of teachers and professors isn’t just to instruct the course material but to mentor them by helping students understand and think critically of the class content. In “Excellent Sheep,” William Deresiewicz claims teachers are like software who operate upon the knowledge and information we receive. Thus, without the necessary software – professors – to process incoming information, the knowledge we receive is fruitless. Professors, like mentors, should be able to foster a great learning environment through clear and concise teaching, alongside a judgment-free space to make students feel reassured in whatever path they may take to optimize their academic and individual growth.
The underlying problem lies within Emory University. Like many elite institutions, Emory prioritizes facilities and research and thereby boosts its academic reputation. In turn, the University neglects and diminishes the quality of undergraduate teaching as professors are more incentivized to care about research over teaching, the primary purpose of professors. Instead of funding the biggest gym facilities, the most grandiose libraries or the best-looking student hubs, the primary purpose of college should be on educating, transferring knowledge from instructors to students, and generating critical discussions to enrich people’s experiences in academia.
As an undergraduate student, I’d like to pose this crucial issue to the faculty, administration, and professors: the representatives of our institution. For every decision to employ a researcher, or teaching assistant – unequipped in classrooms – for the most important position of teaching, you have failed as an institution of higher education in educating students. While this is not a problem unique to Emory, we can be at the forefront of addressing a global problem.
We must shift our values to focus on what’s really important to the value of undergraduate education, fulfilling Emory’s mission “to create, preserve, teach, and apply knowledge in the service of humanity.” Exemplary education is the foundation for outstanding research. The fundamental roots that will help us achieve our mission statement require the institution to put teaching in the same respect as research. I urge us all to be aware of matters that we often subconsciously normalize in college institutions and engage in critical questions to not only better the value of education but also for our institution.
I hope we can all see and call out the problematic nature of colleges that underfund the teaching faculty by incentivizing research over teaching. I hope we can all see the importance of how great teachers can greatly propel us to create our own values in learning and life. Outstanding teachers shouldn’t be a rare commodity that is only present in upper-level courses or certain well-funded departments like biomedical engineering or neurology. Good teaching should be the fundamental experience college can offer. A good education requires an educator who not only teaches the course but forges a connection through intellectual exchange.
Fay Sukparangsee (26C) is from Bangkok, Thailand