“Faculty matter: So why doesn’t everyone think so?” (reading Kezar & Maxey, 2014)

And one more post about teacher-student relationships: a summary of “Faculty matter: So why doesn’t everyone think so?” by Kezar & Maxey (2014).

Reading Kezar’s “leveraging multiple theories of change to promote reform” significantly influenced my thinking, so I was intrigued to read an article that seems focussed on a relatively small detail: the importance of employing full-time faculty to support good student-teacher relationships.

The article gives an overview over why good student-teacher relationships matter, for example increased persistence towards degree completion, better grades, personal development and aspirations, and breadth and depth of learning. These effects are particularly strong for students from historically marginalized backgrounds. As Peter Felten often says: students are often only one conversation away from quitting. So having faculty interactions and providing opportunities for that one interaction can drastically change student aspirations and help them find their individual way in academia. Teacher passion can also transfer motivation and interest on students. Students who feel that their teacher cares about them are often more willing to engage and take academic risks.

Given the importance of faculty interactions for students, it is worrying if systems more and more rely on part-time, short-term contract faculty as teachers. It’s easy to imagine that they are less available for out-of class interactions with students if they only come in to teach a course and then don’t even have an office space to be available in, and that longer-term relationship building is really difficult if they are only hired for one course and then never to be seen on campus ever again. Also, they typically don’t have access to academic development opportunities, and coupled with no longer-term perspective on teaching the course, teaching tends to be more frontal and providing less opportunities for interaction even in class.

The article ends with a call for more considerations of student-teacher interactions, their importance and their benefits in decisions on employment models for teaching staff. The system here in Sweden is quite different from the US context the authors write from, but as a technical faculty, we often use industry experts in teaching. And while they are experts in their respective fields and can provide a connection to “the real world out there”, maybe we need to consider how we can better support / use them in ways that focus on longer-term and deeper connections with students to help with motivation, orientation, and persistence?

Kezar, A., & Maxey, D. (2014). Faculty matter: So why doesn’t everyone think so. Thought & Action, 2014(2014), 29-44.

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