Doctors have residency programs. Electricians have apprenticeships. And now, Florida Gulf Coast University professors have class.
On college professors, Provost Ronald Toll said, “This is the only profession I can think of where your degree qualifications and the reason you’re hired are not necessarily aligned.”
Toll recalled his first day of teaching. “I was scared to death my first day. They put me up in front of a freshman intro to bio course, and no one had ever taught me anything about how to teach.”
That’s why a year and a half ago, Toll, along with Dr. Linda Serro and a committee made up of one professor from each college, began work on a program to teach new professors the one thing they don’t learn in college – how to teach. The result is a new course for professors with fewer than two years of full-time collegiate teaching experience called, “Finding Joy and Success in Teaching.” Just like students, the 12 professors enrolled in the course meet twice a week to learn in the classroom, and leave with reading and assignments.
The curriculum was designed by Serro and her team, who asked themselves the question, “What do you wish you had known your first year of teaching?” This question led the team to six basic units, including how to design a course and how to assess learning.
“I bring in experienced faculty members to talk about things they do well, like using technology in the classroom or leading discussions … we’ve been modeling what good teachers do,” said Serro. This particular course is only the start of what Toll and Serro will develop as a strong program that could potentially involve three cohorts made up of faculty with varying degrees of experience. The “Finding Joy and Success in Teaching” course will be held every fall semester for new faculty, and eventually spring courses will be taught for more experienced faculty, to hone their skills.
Toll believes that, “Each one of them will come out transformed.” The goal of the program is not perfection. “Perfection can’t be sought in this profession. Perfection doesn’t exist in human systems,” Toll said. Instead, the purpose of this program is to give participants a good starting point so that they can “become better teachers, faster.” No other university that the provost knows of has a program specifically designed to prepare its professors to teach. Toll and Serro plan to write and submit papers about the program, and the FGCU course could act as a national model. Toll is proud of the creation of this course. “I think it speaks to something that higher education has not spoken to as rigorously as the conversation requires.” At the end of the day, “Finding Joy and Success in Teaching” isn’t about the professors.
“It’s all about students,” Serro said. Once professors know how to reach and connect with their students, it creates a better learning environment for both parties.