Statement of Teaching Philosophy
If you were given the task to pick up a dictionary to thumb through it in search of a particular word—reflection—regardless of edition or publisher you would all come across some variation of the following definition:
Reflection: [ri-flek-shuh n] 1. An image; representation; counterpart. 2.The throwing back of a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorption. 3.To give serious thought or consideration.
Yet, experience teaches us that reflections are more than just revisiting an event, or a situation, or an object, or a person, or even a process. Experience teaches us that truly meaningful reflections are indeed absorbed. They are neither just mere images/representations nor are they just things we give serious thought to and then move forward unaffected. In regards to my relationship with teaching, reflections have played an integral role in accentuating my role as a teacher. What sort of teacher am I? What sort of teacher do I want to become? What steps do I need to take to get there? In what directions has life carried me in and how can I learn from them? In seeking to answer these questions, I have come to realize that my reflections have changed me profoundly.
If someone asks me what type of teacher I am, I would say, “Someone constantly aspiring to be a better one!” I remember the first time I found out I would be teaching my own undergraduate class. Understanding that knowledge is infinite, my biggest fear was having at least one student in my class who knew more than I did on a particular topic. I would obsess before classes rereading my notes and spending copious amounts of time on the Internet looking for as much relevant current event topics I could use to woo and impress the students. My student evaluations that semester were above average but I still could not see beyond the handful of complaints about my teaching style. By the end of that semester, I had earned a reputation of being knowledgeable so how was it that a couple students actually felt left behind? I was not happy with that. My reflections taught me that:
Although I had gained insight in being confident about my role as a teacher, that it really was not about me- it was about the students.
The next class I taught I focused more on the various types of learning I could bring to the classroom. My aim was to get my students engaged in political science classes. I remembered at the end of that semester on the very last day of class and after evaluations were previously submitted, I led a whole group reflection on the course. The class was packed. I was surprised because I expected that not many people would care to show up to class when there was nothing left to cover. Without knowing that my actions were applying ‘best teaching practices” I sat on the desk in that classroom and I shared with the students the purpose of the class from my perspective as the instructor, as well as what I hoped they had accomplished. Then I asked them to share their views of the class with me. What topics had they wanted to discuss in more detail, what was missing? How could learning have been more fun? I remembered that the atmosphere was respectful, and people spoke quietly and honestly about how the class had affected them. My reflections that day led me to make insightful changes to my teaching style. I valued the reverence of the discussion that day, and I left having learned something new about them. I learned about ‘them’ in the collective—my students—that group that would always be my primary audience.
I want to become a teacher that never forgets that it will always be about the students.
I want to be motivational, and I want students to enjoy learning. I want to find ways to make learning fun and meaningful. I want students to learn how all aspects of learning have practical implications, even if they are not readily apparent. I want to always be surprised by my students, and for them to be surprised by me. I want to learn from them, so that I can continue to meet their needs effectively.
To this end, in the classes that I have taught I make it my goal to incorporate a wide variety of teaching methods aimed at connecting with the needs of a large cross section of learners. I am a huge fan of incorporating film, visuals and videos both in the classroom as well as online. Further, I am a huge proponent of hybrid classes that extend classroom learning to online interfaces such as Blackboard or Moodle. Using the required readings as a guideline, I construct a teaching environment that centers on critical discussion stimulated by probing questions. In guiding my students to help each other arrive at a main idea or concept I try to instill the notion that fun in learning is not simply to be achieved by finding an unquestionable response. Rather learning is really about the discovering of how an individual arrives at a specific endpoint while recognizing all opposing points of view. Teaching classes that are comprised of diverse student identities and backgrounds also falls nicely into place with my method of teaching as exposure to multiple perspectives help to re-reinforce the importance of long-term learning by bridging theory with experience.
The same commitment to critical analysis, exploring multiple perspectives, and forging connections across questions that propel my research also inspire my teaching. Using a combination of critical book reviews and weekly reaction memo’s I provide several opportunities for students to critically analyze and reflection on assigned readings and films. I also encourage them to draw from current event sources to either support or questions the theoretical underpinnings of the course material.
Further, my own writing pedagogy has reinforced self-reflections in regard to my own writing process, how I develop as a teacher, and how understanding my own writing process is critical to incorporating ways to be a better educator and motivator to my students. What I mean to say is that for me, teaching my students how to present a written persuasive argument that guides their readers through a specific argument is equally as important as guiding them through understandings of the rationale for theoretical underpinnings with the field of Political Science. In this way writing becomes an extension of the learning process and not just a means of attaining a grade. To conclude, I aspire for my students—my primary audience—to concretely reflect on my teaching philosophy in a way that will motivate and inspire their learning processes in a positive way.