The Intersection of Teaching and Advising
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Lately I have been thinking about excellence in teaching and advising.. This was spurred by my attendance at the University of Georgia’s (UGA) annual induction dinner and ceremony for faculty invited to membership in the UGA Teaching Academy. The Academy is part of a national network of teaching academies that provide a structure, support, and forum for the scholarship of teaching and learning. I do not know how successful other academies have been, but the UGA Academy, founded in 1999, is active and growing. Our mission remains to “promote and celebrate excellence in teaching and to foster learning through inquiry.” (See http://www.uga.edu/teachingacademy/about.htm.)
Throughout the year, the Teaching Academy sponsors events to highlight the importance of teaching. In 2007–08, we sponsored lunch-and-learn brown bags on “teaching and learning in the large classroom” and “teaching with writing.” Plus, we held two campus-wide workshops. Our signature event is the annual Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium, an off-campus retreat of faculty and administrators. The 2008 topic was “Enhancing Faculty Impact through Engagement and Renewal,” with Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos as the keynote speaker.
Teaching Academy members also extend the impact of the academy through involvement in multiple faculty development efforts on campus such as the Lilly Teaching Fellows program, departmental teaching effectiveness committees, a senior teaching fellows program, a peer consultation team, and the emeriti scholars program. The Center for Teaching and Learning coordinates some of these programs while others are independent or departmental (http://www.ctl.uga.edu/faculty/fac_dev_programs/programs.htm). Additionally, Teaching Academy members regularly provide assistance to the Provost by serving on teaching awards committees or by responding to issues raised by students (e.g., in the last academic year students requested that all teaching evaluations be posted online each semester). We can quickly poll our membership for input on these and other issues and be responsive to both students and the administration.
Shelley Zuraw, Art History: “I aim for an experience that leads each student to be a better scholar, not necessarily of Italian art, but of any intellectual pursuit, the basis for a well-lived and productive life.”
David Zerkel, Music: “What is important to me is that my students know that I am totally vested in their education and have an unwavering interest in seeing them succeed, not only as musicians, but also as human beings.”
M. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru, Journalism: “My overarching goal is to encourage their sense of accomplishment so that before the semester ends their expectations of themselves will exceed my own.
These accomplished scholars exuded a passion and gift for teaching balanced with an equal commitment to the intellectual and personal development of their students. As I heard each faculty member’s story of teaching and read the quotations, it made me think about the article by Barnes and Austin in this issue of the journal, “The Role of Doctoral Advisors: A look at Advising from the Advisor’s Perspective.” The authors conducted in-depth interviews with 25 exemplary advisors, and they conclude with implications for practice by advisors and advisees. The quotes selected by the authors had some of the same key ideas and phrases used by the “exemplary” teachers. For example, one advisor emphasized the value of “helping them [students] fulfill their potential.” Another stated the importance of “making that personal connection.”
I wonder if excellent teachers are also excellent advisors? My observations at the Teaching Academy ceremony suggest that these exemplary teachers would, at the very least, be good advisors. The faculty invited to membership shared ideas about the importance of being accessible and supportive and caring. For many in this special group, teaching extended beyond the classroom.
Several of the doctoral advisors in the Barnes and Austin article spoke of being friendly/professional, collegial, supportive, honest and accessible; and the authors say, “This study…suggests that advisors should be willing to interact with students in regard to professional development matters as well as research and intellectual issues.” I wonder if exemplary advisors are also exemplary teachers? My impression of practices across higher education suggests that we have given more attention to the development of quality instruction than quality advising. I quickly surveyed several websites, to be left unnamed, and noticed instructional development activities dominate in centers for teaching and learning. I guess I am not too surprised. Only recently did the UGA Graduate School begin to recognize exemplary graduate advisors at honors day.
Where and how do doctoral education and doctoral advising and mentoring “count” in the push to quantify faculty and institutional productivity? In fact, quality in doctoral advising may be disregarded in the rush to produce numbers. One to three doctoral graduates per year does not seem like a large workload to those who have not worked in graduate education. It would be interesting to know how doctoral advising is rewarded and valued at departmental, college, and institutional levels across institutions. Are problems of retention in graduate education indirectly the result of institutional attitudes and policies or the direct result of poor advising? I appreciate the opportunity to write this article, which has made me think about overlapping skills in teaching and advising and the contextual environment that affects both.
Here’s to my good advisors and mentors, then and now!