No Longer 'The Amateur Hour'

November 20, 2020

Jonathan Zimmerman’s new book, The Amateur Hour, is indeed a “wonderfully fun … richly researched, eye-opening history of college teaching in the United States,” as Steven Mintz writes in his recent review. But it bears remembering that Zimmerman effectively ends his account in the 1990s.

Contrary to Mintz’s prediction, recent developments give us unambiguous hope that, indeed, teaching will “at last, become more professionalized.” Just in the past nine months -- as a result of the pandemic -- we’ve seen colleges and universities prioritize professional development to strengthen the quality of online teaching. Institutions are recognizing what research has long shown: the direct benefits of quality instruction on student engagement, learning, and retention -- the latter of critical importance to financial stability.

Major foundations including the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Charles Koch Foundation, and national reform organizations like Strong Start to Finish and Every Learner Everywhere, are prioritizing support to faculty and quality teaching as a core student success strategy. Systemwide initiatives in Texas, New York, California and elsewhere, led by the National Association of System Heads, are helping to professionalize teaching based on evidence-based, independently validated instructional competencies.

These efforts are being energized by research from the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), which finds stronger academic achievement, closed equity gaps, and higher rates of course completion among students taught by faculty who hold ACUE’s teaching credential. Although Zimmerman’s book is an important reminder and cautionary tale, past need not be prologue, particularly as the higher education community increasingly recognizes the value of quality teaching and significant impact made by faculty on students.

-- Jonathan Gyurko
President and Co-Founder, Association of College and University Educators

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