Why Professors Are the Perfect Readers

Photo of Research Room at New York Public Library by David Iliff (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

We advocate active, purposeful, and participatory reading. We advocate teachers reading in order to reflect critically and creatively on their own teaching philosophies and practices in order to change them and improve them.

The Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. Manifesto

Last week, I launched the first annual “reading drive” for Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. So far, nearly 100 college teachers and others involved in teaching and learning in higher education have joined, indicating that they are planning or committing to read at least one book on teaching and learning this academic year.

This humble (but not too shabby) beginning underscores the larger phenomenon that many college teachers, many more than a hundred, do read the scholarship on teaching and learning. This is so despite obstacles, e.g., competing demands on our time and the academic culture that generally devalues pedagogical knowledge. Why?

One explanation is its utilitarian value, i.e., we read the scholarship because doing so may prove useful in improving our teaching. Most of us care about teaching and take steps to do it better. Reasonably, this sort of reading may simply be one of those steps for some of us. But beyond its “use-value,” I want to suggest that many of us also read because doing so fits the ethos of professorship.

College professors make the “perfect readers” for the scholarship on teaching and learning because the practice of reading this work embodies so many of the values we already hold dear, that we have developed through years of effort and care, that we hope to live out and to get out students to live out. To wit, the following:

  • Reading—being readers,
  • Curiosity—wanting to know things,
  • Lifelong learning—continually growing for the sake of growing,
  • Critical thinking—not just going with what we’ve always thought but really thinking through things,
  • Evidentiary reasoning—testing ideas against available evidence, counterevidence, or lack thereof,
  • Capacity for sustained effort—doing hard things over long periods of time, and
  • Quality—doing things well, going beyond what it takes to just get by.

We read the scholarship on teaching and learning to improve our teaching, of course—but just as importantly, I suggest, to enact these values so central to our professorial identity and purpose.

Photo of Research Room at New York Public Library by David Iliff (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

2 responses to “Why Professors Are the Perfect Readers

  1. Do you think that if the teacher commits to reading more academic books that that can affect the teacher’s students to be more willing to read/learn on their own?

    • I don’t see any way for there to be a direct connection between the two but I can see several ways for there to be an indirect one. One might be that if teachers read more, they can encourage their students by their example. The more likely way, though, I think, is that by reading books on teaching, they can learn about ways of motivating students and getting them to read.

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