We all know that the employment situation in the university sector is challenging at the moment, and that the number of PhD students coming through the system does not equate to the the jobs available for them, so is it really worth trying to become a lecturer? A rather depressing article in this week’s Chronicle seems to argue against it. See the whole article here.
Thomas Benton argues that lecturers have little ability to improve the performance of their students, because of structural factors, not because they are poor teachers. Benton says that the students themselves have become unwilling to put the required work in and almost demand a good grade. But the system itself also encourages grade inflation and there is a university-wide reluctance to kick out poor students because of worries over student retention rates.
A teacher’s popularity is important in the US because students’ feedback is used to judge teaching performance as is class sizes. If you struggle to recruit students because you are perceived as a harsh marker, your course and therefore your job could be under threat. This is especially true if you are a vulnerable temporary or part time lecturer.
Incredibly high teaching loads for these lecturers (who even sometimes have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet) mean that they do not have time to dedicate to helping students on an individual level. It’s not that they’re poor teachers, they’re just being asked to do the impossible.
All these factors have contributed to significant decline in morale in the last few decades. Of course Benton is painting a picture of American academia and his story might not be true in the UK, but I bet some of it sounds familiar. I don’t believe that these problems are impossible to overcome and if you have a real calling to be a lecturer then you should pursue it. But it’s important to be realistic about the nature of the job and some of the challenges you will face.