Since we have hardly any criteria for measuring good teaching, we have hardly any instructions on how to be a good teacher; so much so, that the issue itself is generally treated with some embarrassment in academic circles. Except as one is truly an extaordinary teacher, in which case we defer to his gift, sustained interest in teaching is viewed as something of a gaucherie. This shocks our friends and distresses our students, but it makes perfectly good sense, since we conventionally assume that good teachers are born, not made. (If they were made, then we should be able to make them; since we do not profess to know how to make them, yet they continue to turn up here and there, they must be born.)
The logic is somewhat circular, and quite like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having established that good teaching, when it happens, is essentially accidental, and hence not scientifically reproducible, we snicker at the “educationists” who profess to have identified “rules” for our work. There does exist, for example, a body of literature which employs scientific standards to identify the best methods for presenting various kinds of knowledge to students. Yet this is a literature which is almost totally unknown to anyone who is likely to make use of it. Thus its validity has not been tested, except experimentally.
Although random efforts to improve the quality of teaching, and perhaps to apply the same standards in our analysis of teaching that we apply in our research, seem to be increasing, it is, on the whole, unlikely that they will grow substantially. For the most part, such efforts are directed at curricular revision, or at restructuring of course contents; they rarely deal with the nature of the relationship between the teacher and his students. And, even when they do, they must overcome an ethic of futility which is firmly established in our graduate schools.