...and Richard, in some respects, is dead-on. I'm only in my second term but I already know exactly how bad teachers can be. I've got a CS prof who couldn't teach her way out of a bag - but in person she's a lovely, very intelligent person.
But I also know how good teachers can be. UW this year is performing a sort of experiment: I am one of 45 students taking a modified Calculus 2 course, with a heavy emphasis on the development of calculus and applications of it to real physical problems. Instead of learning things which seem to come right out of left field, we learn how Taylor took Newton's interpolating polynomial, and extended it to create the Taylor polynomial. We learn that MacLaurin did the same thing, around the same time, using a completely different method. And then, we try to increase the accuracy of this polynomial - we take it to the limit - and poof! out comes the Taylor Series for sine, or the exponential.
This class has truly been an eye-opener for me. Calc 1 was fun, but that was because I had a really irreverant, funny grad student as a teacher. Calc 2 has ignited the true passion for math I know is in there - and I'm a CS student. It's made me want to take a minor in applied math. Why?
I can only attribute it to my professor, Dr. G. Tenti. He's enthusiastic, he truly knows what he's doing -- and he knows how to teach. He said to us on the first day of the course 'I'm not going to give you my e-mail address or phone extension. I don't like those things, they tend to make things impersonal. If I can't look into your eyes, I can't see if you actually understand.' I'd take another course taught by Dr. Tenti in an instant.
Now, as for my CS professor? Well, I try to defend her, because I like her as a person. People have a tendency to ridicule her because she's just not at home in front of a crowd teaching. She's at home researching - which, not so incidentally, is why she's a member of the faculty.
The simple fact is that professors, in this day and age, are there to do research, and they have to teach, because it's part of their duties. And really, (there has been a lot of complaining -- particularly in those taking a BMath here at UW), there's nothing that can be done about it. Good researchers are not necessarily good teachers. There are those like Dr. Tenti who are, but then there are those like my CS professor, who simply can't teach. And that's unfortunate - undergrads in particular find themselves learning more out of a textbook than in lectures.
I don't know - but is there any way of motivating professors to learn to teach more? Any way to get universities to encourage better teachers?