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A Worthwhile Teaching Award

For Those Who Teach

A Worthwhile Teaching Award

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Teaching awards have many fans; I’m not among them. Nancy Chism’s analysis of 144 awards at 85 institutions (one of the few systematic reviews conducted) identifies one of the reasons teaching awards are overrated: “It is somewhat startling to observe that for a little more than half of the awards in the sample, no criteria or only a global statement associating the award with the term ‘teaching excellence’ is stated.” (p. 592) There are other issues as well. The monetary awards are modest, one-time dividends that pale alongside the years of hard work good teaching requires. The awards focus on performance and tend to favor “showy” teaching styles, faculty who can present with flourish, leaving those who promote learning in quieter ways unrecognized. And then there’s how regularly the recipient must assemble the dossier that makes the case for his or her excellence—so much for objectivity.

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