As I have done in the past, I gave one of my classes a mid-semester evaluation to fill out. There were two trends that emerged rather clear from the data, 1) The pace for roughly 60% of the class was too fast, and 2) whereas the amount of material covered in class was widely agreed to be okay, a significant number of students felt I included too much "superfluous material" in the lectures.
1. being more than is sufficient or required; excessive.
2. unnecessary or needless.
3. Obsolete . possessing or spending more than enough or necessary; extravagant.
I have to say I was a little surprised by this - that there was such a trend towards "Just the facts, dude". It is not rare for me to use the topics of the class to make a connection between the day's subject and things the students are more familiar with. Is this superfluous? If something helps a student understand a concept, but "isn't on the test", should it be omitted?
I'll admit that I struggle with this kind of thing and it depresses the hell out of me. I feel as though I am trying to display some of the cool and interesting things that the subject I am teaching has to offer and all I hear is "Um, will this be on the test?" I am aware that the motivation for the students centers around getting a good grade and that I am not the reincarnation of Robin Williams* from The Dead Poet's Society, but the lack of student curiosity or motivation to actually understand (rather than memorize) concepts is enough to shank my interest in teaching and leave it dead on the shower floor.
And outside of ideological reasons, why should I care? Our current tenure system places little weight on teaching, leaving me to wonder whether sacrificing it isn't actually in my best interest. Let one ball drop, right? As much effort as I may put into teaching, it is only (mildly) rewarded through student evaluation; an imperfect system at best. My colleagues end up judging my teaching based almost entirely on whether the students liked me, rather than any measure of how good my teaching is.
I know this debate is old and tired, that the tenure system is flawed and that education at the university level has changed with both the culture and the model for how universities are run, but I had some hope that I would find an excitement in teaching. At the very least, I hoped not to have to drag the students through the material while editing out anything that might be seen as superfluous.
* Can we all just pretend that he died after Good Will Hunting and before Patch Adams?