At one school I worked at the strategy for dealing with poor teaching was to get feedback from students around midterms. If the students criticism was strong enough the teacher was pulled from the class and replaced by someone else in the middle of the semester.

Naturally this led to administrative and departmental chaos when, at times, a handful of teachers would be shuffled in the middle of a semester.

I would like to know if this is common practice at other schools and if not, what mechanics do other schools have to support teachers struggling to perform well and ensure the quality of the courses assigned to them?

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    In some universities teaching is regarded as an « occupational hazard » associated with research... – Solar Mike Nov 12 '18 at 12:09
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    "get feedback from students around midterms" <- who the heck approved this idea? Why would you choose to solicit feedback during a time of elevated stress from a group of people that don't even understand why using a phone in the middle of class is problematic? It sounds like a tactic used by unscrupulous universities with worthless degrees whose goal is to retain students via appeasement rather than provide a useful education. – MonkeyZeus Nov 12 '18 at 14:29
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    @MonkeyZeus the idea that learners don't have anything of value to say about the quality of teaching is, thankfully, not universal. – De Novo Nov 12 '18 at 16:28
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    @MonkeyZeus there is a great deal of literature on the utility of midpoint teaching feedback. I don't think I took your words out of context. It seems like you don't place a high value on the viewpoint of learners when you disagree with them, as demonstrated by your link and the way you worded it, as well as your use of the word "appeasement" to describe getting feedback from students around midterms. – De Novo Nov 12 '18 at 16:54
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    There is only one true answer: they don't. – Lonidard Nov 12 '18 at 20:13

This is the first time (in 45 years) that I've heard of acting on a mid-term teaching review. Even a mid-term review is, I think, very rare. At least in the US. Students here usually provide a course evaluation at end of term and the department head is open to student complaints at any time, but I think that any formal system of supporting struggling teachers is also very rare. Prior to obtaining tenure, you are subject to being fired for poor teaching at many places. But, in general, it needs to be a pretty clear cut case for that to happen.

Instead, poor teaching is dealt with at the time of hiring and often as part of the tenure process, including at mid-tenure review. At most places, poor teaching is a mark against you, though at some universities a star researcher will still be hired. Such a person won't normally be put in a class room with novices, however, and teaching will be at upper levels where advanced students may be more able to deal with it.

Generally, though, if a major part of the job is teaching, you are expected to already be good at it in order to be hired. In many of the top research institutions where teaching isn't really expected of researchers, there is a special faculty track for teachers who handle much of the undergraduate program. These jobs can come with (eventual) tenure and a different set of responsibilities from those on the research track.

In many fields people are employed as TAs as part of the doctoral education and some of these positions involve actually teaching a course. Thus, you can get some experience teaching before entering the job market. That isn't universal, of course. If a TA turns out to be a poor teacher, they won't be put back in a classroom (one hopes, at least) and will be given other duties.

There are also, in some fields, special interest groups who hold conferences dedicated to teaching that subject: SIGCSE as part of ACM, for example, which holds several conferences per year. Here teachers can learn about the craft of teaching. But it is up to the individual, with encouragement from the administration, to participate in such things.

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In some cases a university will choose to do nothing in regard to the quality of an instructor's teaching.

This can be for several reasons:

  • The professor is very good at research and brings in a substantial amount of grant money.
  • They have tenure and are practically untouchable.
  • They are placed to teach lower level classes and will weed out less capable students.
  • The instructor is a graduate student and they will only be teaching a laboratory. In this case the university will care more that they are progressing on their thesis.

This comes from my personal experience in multiple US research focused engineering universities.

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My short answer based on my experience in mathematics is "often not well". It's a very hard problem.

Longer version.

I've never heard of switching instructors mid semester based on evaluations. Even multiple delegations from the class to the department chair are unlikely to lead to that, although they may have some effect for future semesters.


teachers struggling to perform well

is difficult, but rewarding. Colleagues talk with them about teaching, visit classes, share difficulties and experiences. What's harder (for a chair) is working with poor teachers who don't know or can't admit that they are not doing a good job.

Student evaluations (customary at the end of the semester) are generally not a good way to measure teaching quality, for many reasons discussed in many places.

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  • I expect this varies quite a bit between departments and schools within a given university. In professional schools where there is an accrediting body that is very concerned about the quality of teaching, these problems get more attention. – De Novo Nov 12 '18 at 20:44

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