Schools face the problem of recruiting and retaining students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees. One reason that students leave STEM fields is because their introductory classes are too hard or not engaging. These introductory classes are typically taught using a lecture-heavy, instructor-centered approach, contrary to current evidence based pedagogy. Many who call for teacher reform put the blame on the way teachers are educated, which is often not student-centered, citing that because ‘teachers teach the way they were taught,’ current education is also not student-centered. The idea that ‘teachers teach the way they were taught’ is commonly used to promote an agenda for improved teaching training and accepted as fact in the scientific literature. However, little empirical data has been collected to support this conclusion. We aimed first to determine empirically if teachers teach the way they were taught, and second to determine the influences behind teaching practices. We observed, surveyed, and interviewed a sample of 44 instructors at seven colleges and universities throughout the state of Utah who taught select STEM introductory courses. Instruments used included observational, survey, and interview protocols developed specifically for this study during preliminary trials, and inspired by the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP). A paired t-test was used to compare the professors’ teaching practices with their own educational experiences. Interview responses were then grouped into common categories and used to determine the influences behind teaching practices. We discovered that there is a significant difference between how teachers teach and how they were taught during their own educational experience. This finding does not support our hypothesis that teachers teach the way they were taught. Qualitative data from interviews introduces a new hypothesis that teachers teach the way they themselves preferred to be taught, or the way they think students learn best, demonstrating that teachers are taking a much more metacognitive approach to teaching than is suggested by that famous quote, ‘teachers teach the way they were taught.’ Our results suggest that reform classes and workshops develop a more metacognitive approach to exposing future teachers to current, evidence based pedagogy, allowing teachers to reflect on their own learning and experience for themselves the benefits of student-centered learning. These future teachers will then apply what they learn if they are convinced it is a better way to teach students. They will teach the way they were taught because they experienced a positive experience when leaning.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





student-centered learning, reformed teaching, teaching practices, undergraduate education, STEM retention



Included in

Biology Commons