Teaching (graduate/doctoral) students to become teachers

When I was working on my PhD it dawned on me that I could go through the whole program without obtaining any teaching experience. Lucky for me, I had come into contact with Ruben Dupertuis of Trinity University here in San Antonio. I reached out to him about being a voluntary TA. He countered with an opportunity to be part of a ‘teaching internship’, which wasn’t a program already in place but something he invented along with the department head of the Religion Department at that time (I think it was Sarah Pinnock). I was able to ‘shadow’ Ruben for a semester and then lead a seminar with him and Chad Spigel for another. I’m confident that this experience played an important role in landing me my current job.

The other day I suggested that people with PhDs should consider the possibility of applying for high school teaching jobs rather than spinning their wheels in the world of adjunction and short-term contracts. I’m not here to kill anyone’s dreams of being a professor at a college or university but at some point realism strikes and it becomes evident that not everyone who is talented and smart enough to find that type of job has an actual job waiting for them. But there’s a problem: when you apply to teach high school, the thing they watch closest is how you function in the classroom. Your CV means little. I was told by one faculty who was interviewing me that they had no doubt about my intellectual capacity or my qualifications with the course material but that high school teachers don’t teach topics, they teach emerging adults, and they just happen to use their area of expertise to do that.

Which leads me to my main point: doctoral programs, if they’re going to continue accepting more students than have jobs waiting for them, need to make them competitive in ways that transcend the market for research professors. In Biblical Studies and theology, the ‘fall back’ for many is the pastorate, but not everyone is qualified for that or even close to a good fit. (I was asked over and over about being a pastor and the older I get the happier I am that I recognize that was not me!)

This is why I was thrilled to Justin Weinberg’s article ‘Course to Teach University Students to Engage Philosophically with High Schoolers’. Weinberg shares how the ‘University of Pennsylvania is offering a course that will teach undergraduates how to teach philosophy to high school students.’ He writes, ‘The course, “Public Philosophy & Civic Engagement,” is one of the university’s “Academically Based Community Service” courses.’ You can read more about it in the article but let me suggest this: a program like this could be very successful if the university students come to a class that is assigned to a high school teacher and that teacher remains present in the room as a coach and to assist with classroom management. Also. I would suggest that the high school teacher be the one who chooses homework assignments, homework loads, and does the grading. But I can imagine a class where four or five different university students (especially doctoral level students) split the actual class time across a semester under a high school teachers coaching and supervision. Even if the university student goes on to grab one of those teaching jobs in higher ed, I guarantee they’ll be better prepared that if they don’t get teaching experience while doing their research or if they only do something like TAing, which doesn’t give you the same responsibilities or opportunities as something like this.

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