I just got a permanent position. Hooray!

My question is the opposite of this one (that popped out as a suggestion from this site): How to care less about teaching?

During my PhD studies I TAed a little but was essentially told by everyone not to worry too much about it. During my postdoc I did not teach at all.

Now I will have to teach half a load the first year and a full load starting from the second year. This is a bit scary. I want to spend more time on teaching, preparing the course, actually learning how to teach (something I never did, it's just assumed that since I spent so long in universities I'm now a teacher through osmosis). But whenever I start doing that, I remember that I will never be evaluated on teaching in my life, and if I want promotions later, only my research will count. Any second more than the bare legal minimum spent on teaching is time not spent on research. How do I stop feeling guilt about this?

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    What country are you in? At least in the US, at any place you would be teaching, the statement "I remember that I will never be evaluated on teaching in my life, and if I want promotions later, only my research will count" is simply false. It's true that at a research university teaching will be weighted less than research, and that methods for evaluating teaching are flawed, but teaching does count. Jul 27, 2018 at 15:56
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    I'll also add: As with most things in life, what matters is your internal motivation. You should teach well, and put effort into teaching, because, presumably, you care about the outcomes of teaching, not because of how someone else will evaluate you. The same goes for research as well; the people I see who "rationally" calculate costs and rewards are not actually those who do great things. Jul 27, 2018 at 15:59
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    Does your school not have the students doing teacher evaluations? That's one way to get feedback on how you're teaching.
    – Laurel
    Jul 27, 2018 at 16:04
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    Flippant advice with some truth to it: you aren't yet high enough on the food chain to get away with being a bad teacher.
    – user37208
    Jul 27, 2018 at 17:20
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    Actually @StellaBiderman, my read is that he feels guilt because he is seemingly being forced to spend little effort on teaching. I think it is a mistaken assumption, of course. This doesn't seem like the question of a slacker who wants a justification. But rather a seeker who wants out of the trap.
    – Buffy
    Jul 27, 2018 at 18:41

3 Answers 3


I think you could do a few things to essentially work smarter not harder. My reading is that you want to do a good job on teaching in a time-efficient manner. You know that teaching can become a big time commitment, and you want to make sure you don't succumb to an unwise habit of too much teaching time.

First, consider getting a book or two on teaching and reading through them. I liked "What the Best College Teachers Do" by Bain. You might also check out some of the teaching columns in Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Second, build on the work of good teachers. Reflect on courses you have liked. Try to get syllabi from those courses to use when designing your own course. Or, get syllabi from colleagues at your new school. When you select your texts, try to choose those that come with extras like slides, exam questions, and cases. Try to use a common text so you can ask colleagues for their materials to customize.

Third, prioritize. For me, this has meant "working hard" on one class per semester and putting less effort into customizing and improving other classes. (Then rotating and improving a different class the next time.) I also prioritize what I will cover, as trying to squeeze a lot into a class takes more work than focusing on a more limited number of key takeaways. Lastly, put your efforts into things that are really value-added for your students. I'm not sure what this is in your field. In mine, it is arranging guest speakers and "real-world" assignments and discussion cases. For my students, grading is not as big of a value add, although feedback is useful. Strict grading can start to take up a lot of time if you let it.

Finally, check with your new chair to make sure you have a clear idea of teaching expectations. Each department has different expectations, so you need to get a handle on your particular expectations, not some vague idea you have from your previous institution or the internet. Good luck!

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    I suspect that "letting the other courses putter along" is not good advice for this OP or anyone else. Find a better solution for your students sake. Some schools will give a reduced teaching load to new faculty to aid in prioritization, of course. OTOH, recommending that feedback is better than grading is good advice.
    – Buffy
    Jul 27, 2018 at 17:16
  • @Buffy Well, I suppose what you and I mean by “putter along” and “fine.” I will clarify in he answer. In the end I got better evils on my “fine” class because it was more standard and easier. But I think students learned more on my high-effort course.
    – Dawn
    Jul 27, 2018 at 19:09
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    *evals 😂 At least I hope you meant evals....
    – Peter K.
    Jul 27, 2018 at 20:24
  • Haha, yes. I had several typos I could not edit. This is what I get for trying to write while waiting in line for the one campus dining option open in the summer on a Friday.
    – Dawn
    Jul 27, 2018 at 20:41
  • +1 on Bain's book. I'm reading it now and it is making me change my perspective on how to prepare and run the courses I'll teach next year. Also worth mentioning the obligatory "Advice for new faculty members" by Boice.
    – Matteo
    Jul 30, 2018 at 13:20

You are correct that, in the US, at least you are expected to just be able to teach at University. In Europe that isn't assumed and there are actually requirements for teachers.

But the osmosis thing, while true, is a terrible assumption. Most people coming out of a doctoral program have been associating for several years with people just like themselves. Idea driven, hard workers, readers, note takers, explorers, etc. Then they wind up in an undergraduate course, for which they understand the material well, but they don't understand that the students are not all the same. The students in particular are not at all like you or the people you've been working with.

Every student is different. They have different strengths and weaknesses. Many of their weaknesses were caused by poor teaching in the past and they never learned how to learn. Some found it easy early on if not many expectations were put on them and then come up against a wall at University. I've see 3rd year (out of 4) undergraduates who had no idea about how to learn anything from a lecture (in CS). They didn't come prepared to take notes. They didn't come prepared to ask questions. They didn't know how to analyze and compress the information they were given. So they struggled with assignments. I actually had to teach them how to take notes. It isn't hard, actually, and doesn't take a lot of time. Three or four minutes at each end of a lecture.

My students weren't lazy. They just had no clue about study. No one ever took the time to teach them how to do better. It wasn't supposed to be my job to do this, but they and I would fail if I didn't take on the task. Be aware. Don't cut them slack, but show them how they can excel.

But you, the new instructor, weren't likely like that. You think (know) that the students will learn just like you did and that emulating your best professor is just what they need. Nope. Ain't so. That professor worked for you, and people like you. You need to learn about responding to student needs and to look for cues that they are or aren't getting it. Watch their faces. Watch what they do with their hands. Find a way to get questions.

Neither is it true that (in most places in the US) that you will be judged only on research. Some places let a faculty member decide where they want their main focus to be. I worked at places that had three sets of criteria for advancement (teaching, research, service). You needed to be good in all and were expected to excel in at least one. You could define the parameters to some extent, but had to show (in a dossier) that you made contributions to each.

Certain academic positions, in which you advise only graduate students feel a bit different and there the work with students is closely tied to research. That is fine, but you also need to be aware that at the beginning, each student needs help on things other than the topics/skills of the field. But even there, your service to the students will be noted by your peers.

But if you are allowed to teach, then you are likely expected to teach well. It is sad that new faculty in the US, at least, don't get more support for that. But you can, perhaps, find a mentor in your department, known for his/her teaching who can give you hints about both teaching and managing the full range of expectations put on you.

Furthermore, at many (I hope most) places you get to input into the tenure process. My experience is that the candidate writes a dossier detailing all of the things they contribute. Depending on the institution that may be heavier on research or not. But part of the judgement of you will be base on that dossier: Is it appropriate? Did you fulfill your own goals?

Many places also give candidates a review at the half-way point to the tenure decision, giving them feedback on their progress and advice about what they should do differently if anything.

  • I am not sure about "expected" to teach well. I was told that my university's standard is "Did you hit a student?" My personal standards are higher than that, but it does take the pressure off.
    – Dawn
    Jul 27, 2018 at 20:43
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    Hmmm. @Dawn, did you hit a student who didn't deserve it? ;)
    – Buffy
    Jul 27, 2018 at 23:38
  • I know a professor who says in their lectures that women should not be allowed to study and fail all women.. (Central Europe). There are definitely no.requriements for teachers (also in other cases)
    – user96501
    Jul 29, 2018 at 18:16

Teaching has many opportunities for researching. You can find different perspectives there, maybe even quite interesting ones. This will have a profound effect on your works, as well. At the same time, you will also start to question your foundations more vigorously and sincerely so it will replenish your academic knowledge.

More importantly, if you will be a good teacher/lecturer many undergraduate students try to learn/discuss the course materials and even course-related extra topics. Certainly, there are many funding associated boundaries for these plans, yet it can not be overlooked.

I am seeing it, even though not very accurate, that mentoring a student or teaching an undergrad is very similar to planting a tree. After starting to consider this assignment in this way, you will also begin to understand the practical outcomes of teaching in your case.

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