March 15, 2012

The Sociology of Education: Can Professors Teach?

clip_image001By Janis Prince Inniss

If you fail a required class, you would have to repeat it to get credit, right? And what are some of the factors that influence your grades, what you learn, how well you learn, and whether or not you pass a class?

As a teacher, I can make a healthy list of factors that contribute to students doing poorly—many of which rest squarely and completely on the shoulders of students and leave me and other professors completely guilt free. However, you would probably indict at least some of your professors with failing grades for the frustrations you experience with learning material. Most of us recognize that our professors’ abilities as educators vary and that teaching quality is one important aspect of the equation that accounts for student learning.


clip_image004The question I want to focus on in this piece is how I could be allowed to teach at many universities regardless of my proficiency as a teacher. Did you know that it is my mastery of a subject area that gets me hired to teach it? I have a Ph.D. in Sociology and that qualifies me to teach the subject. What else should be relevant? What about my ability to teach?

Surely knowing something and being able to teach it are not the same thing. But to get a good university teaching job, you don't need teaching credentials; you need a doctorate in the relevant subject (preferably from a top-tier school), publications in high impact journals, and a solid research agenda. And in order to attain the holy grail of tenure at most American universities, teaching ability is not the most important factor—publishing your research is– hence the saying, “publish or perish”. (As part of the selection process, candidates for teaching jobs at some university give lectures, while others act as guest teachers for one class. Do you think this provides enough information about a professor’s teaching ability?)

In order to teach at elementary and secondary schools, however, you need a teaching credential. To learn some more about this, I decided to spend some time figuring out what I would need to do to teach Social Sciences in the middle grades (grades 5 to 9) in my home state of Florida. With a doctorate in sociology and no teaching experience, to obtain a five-year renewable Professional Certificate, I would have to:

  1. demonstrate Mastery of General Knowledge,
  2. demonstrate Mastery of Subject Knowledge for a requested subject,
  3. demonstrate Mastery of Professional Preparation and Education Competence,
  4. obtain instructional employment in Florida, and
  5. obtain fingerprint clearance.

Let’s hope that my education and work experiences would help me to pass the Florida General Knowledge Test which includes four subtests (essay, English language, reading, and math), thereby jumping the first hurdle. Mastery of Subject Knowledge (Hurdle 2) would be met since I have a Master’s degree—one requirement is a bachelor’s or higher degree in social science. To meet the third requirement (Mastery of Professional Preparation and Education Competence), the following looks like it would be the route I would take:

Completion of a state-approved teacher preparation program from a Florida institution and achievement of a passing score on the Florida Professional Education Test.

I could attend an Educator Preparation Institute at a community college, approved by the Florida Department of Education. At Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, this is a 7 course/21 credit program that can be completed in six to eight months. The courses include: Classroom Management, Professional Foundations, Instructional Strategies, Technology, The Teaching and Learning Process, Diversity, and Foundations of Research-Based Practices in Reading.

In addition to these courses, would-be teachers are required to spend 30-100 hours gaining experience in schools where they must demonstrate competencies in practices laid out by the State. Successful completion of this program would earn me an Alternative Preparation Certificate and qualify me to take the Professional Education Test. This test examines pedagogy and professional practices; it covers the professional education competencies identified by the Florida Department of Education as critical to effective teaching. The areas are:

  1. Assessment
  2. Communication
  3. Continuous Improvement
  4. Critical Thinking
  5. Diversity
  6. Ethics
  7. Human Development and Learning
  8. Knowledge of Subject Matter
  9. Learning Environments
  10. Planning
  11. Role of the Teacher
  12. Technology
  13. Foundations of Education
  14. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

The name—Educator Preparation Institute—is noteworthy. Look again at the kinds of courses I would have to take at the community college and at the long list of competencies identified by the Florida Department of Education as important for effective teaching. Without a doctorate in education or any of its subfields, clip_image006where would I have gained this knowledge and these skills? Like many professors, I apprenticed as a teaching assistant in graduate school, but that experience came with little instruction.

Some “teaching universities” pay ample attention to the way students are taught, but this is an area that is all but ignored by many universities. How well do most of your professors teach? Most universities conduct student evaluations of their professors so this is a question you are asked on a regular basis. Should your answer matter? And should your opinion of your professor be the main source of data on your professors’ ability to teach?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Sociology of Education: Can Professors Teach?:


This is a really thought provoking article. I agree with you completely that it's not right that we don't educate college professors in the subject of teaching. One thing I have to point out is ritualism from the strain theory by Durkheim, which suggests that some grade school teachers go through the entire process of college education and then just don't care about how they teach.

Excellent article. I think that since professors may not be educated in how to properly teach, it contributes greatly to the success--or unsuccess--of that student. While it's important that you know the subject, if you never really teach it to your students, are you really doing your job? It's something to think about!

Let's not overlook the fact that by the time you earn a PhD you've been involved in the teaching and learning process for over 7 years, which is nearly twice the higher education experience of many K-12 teachers. While this doesn't necessarily make you into a great teacher, it certainly should have given you plenty of time to reflect upon what does and doesn't work in the classroom. While I can't speak for anyone else, I would argue that we in the social sciences are highly reflexive about our behavior and pedagogy; we are constantly "experimenting" and comparing what does and doesn't work as we gain "on the job" skills that improve our ability to teach. Of course there is a learning curve and "new" instructors may face challenges in reaching students. Of course some instructors and professors have more natural passion, ability, and aptitude. However, by attending faculty meetings and workshops in one's department, by being mentored by more experienced colleagues, and by being evaluated in a critical and constructive way, most of us become "good" at teaching. I'm not sure a sequence of formal courses to teach us to teach would do more than give rise to more "credentialism," which already keeps many bright, educated folks out of K-12 education. If you can't learn to take the lead on what you've been immersed in for 7 or 8 years fairly quickly, perhaps academia is a poor career choice.

I really love this article. Cause the fact of it all some teachers just dont know how to teach! (No offence) Some teachers believe that kids will learn best their way when this isn't true. When the truth is, all students are different, and all students learn the differently from each other.

In my experience, (eight years as an undergraduate in two continets and three years as a part-time graduate school student) university professors are generally poor teachers. I believe universities are working under the assumption that their students will learn primarily through self-study. The university believes that lecturers\professors are only there to guide them on reading material and answer questions when the students encounter difficulties.

I believe that since all professors may not be as educated as others in the correct teaching way, it plays a large role in how the student does. Their teaching reflects the students ability to learn. It is important to know the subject that you are trying to teach.

This article was very interesting. Most teachers believe that there ways are the ways your going to learn which isn't always the case. Most kids have different ways there best at learning. Professors and teachers should know the information and subject there teaching. Also they need to be updated when the information changes that they are teaching.

Ha. Of course students are going to give a blog post critical of professors' teaching ability a glowing (and unreflexive?) review. Why wouldn't they? This absolves them of looking at their own challenges when it comes to the other side of the exchange--knowing how to learn; I didn't learn much, but it wasn't my fault.... It is impossible for any instructor or professor, especially in a large lecture class, to accommodate the learning styles and needs of all students no matter how skilled or experienced they are. In post-secondary education there DOES need to be a certain reliance on students to be intellectually curious and to some extent "self-taught." Simply instituting teacher education credentials is no guarantee that "good" teachers will be produced. What if their teachers in the teacher prep courses can't teach? At some point students need to take responsibility for what they learn.

The colleges in New Jersey for psychology are very popular all round because they are much rewarding and very prestigious. Psychology is also very vast field where the student is entitled to learn various courses commonly known as physiology, abnormal psychology, perception, and motivation, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, forensic psychology and few more in the list as well.

Janis, I totally agree that teaching quality has a strong part to play in a student's performance.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot to change an existing system which has been established for years.

The universities that do not focus on quality of teaching will automatically suffer when assessed by other institutions or when student feedback is requested so they will eventually figure out where they are not doing so well.

this article is good

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for please .

Norton Sociology Books

The Real World

Learn More

Terrible Magnificent Sociology

Learn More

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

The Art and Science of Social Research

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

Race in America

Learn More


Learn More

« Affirmative Action in College Admissions | Main | Research Methods and Standardized Tests »