Rethinking Teaching Incentives: An Opportunity to Say Thanks
I recently had the opportunity to present the Frank Knox Award for Excellence in Teaching to two very deserving faculty members at Queen’s Convocation. This, coupled with recent talks happening on campus, sparked a critical reflection in my mind about how we celebrate teaching excellence at Queen’s. Although committing oneself to excellence in teaching, particularly at Queen’s, requires a substantial amount of work, the impact that it can have in the lives of students makes it an extraordinarily rewarding experience; an experience that must be recognized and celebrated.
Partly due to the stipulations of the current collective agreement, committing oneself to excellence in the classroom requires careful consideration and extra effort from faculty members. Professors that are committed to such spend hours restructuring courses for the benefit of students. Drafting fair and appropriate course syllabi, selecting interesting reading materials, preparing engaging lectures and designing valuable assessment methods takes up an incredible amount of time and resources. Those professors who make an effort to develop courses this way often spend hours outside of their traditional teaching duties to achieve these goals and, as such, it is very important that teaching awards appropriately reflect this commitment.
Additionally, designing and implementing innovative teaching methods involves an element of risk. Students can often be initially adverse to nontraditional teaching methods, making the implementation process “rocky” at best. Student resistance is a very unfortunate experience for faculty members who utilize alternative learning approaches because their positive intentions and hard work are then met with negative consequences. Unfortunately, this resistance from students can occasionally dissuade professors from engaging in course development, making those professors who decide to do so all the more deserving of recognition. Celebration of these practices would go a long way to making the road to a better learning experience a little less bumpy.
Despite these challenges, the intrinsic incentives of excellent teaching are plentiful. Students often cite their favourite professor as the individual who inspired them to pursue a field of study, who helped them develop their critical thinking skills, or who shared life lessons that have aided them in navigating life. It is this opportunity, the opportunity to have a formative impact of a young person’s life and guide them to the right path that makes excellent teaching so valuable. University is often a student’s first opportunity to explore his or her true intellectual passions and determine the first step in a life long journey of learning. Faculty members who make this journey a positive one should be commended for their contributions. Teaching awards, intrinsic or otherwise, should reflect the enormity of the impact that educators at Queen’s can have on the lives of students.
Faculty members are key contributors to the Queen’s Community. Teaching, one of their primary contributions, is a challenging task that requires commitment and adversity but can also be incredibly rewarding. Professors who choose to prioritize excellence in the classroom against their many other responsibilities give themselves the ability to have an immense impact on those around them. We must give them something ourselves. Prestigious teaching awards and appropriate teaching incentives are a place to start
Over the next year, the Academic Affairs Commission will be rethinking the administration of the Frank Knox Award for Excellence in Teaching. We will strive to appropriately recognize professors for their contributions and thank them for their dedication while providing them with a platform to share their great work. I encourage all other groups on campus to engage in a similar reflection to make sure the efforts of our talented faculty are being appropriately rewarded.