Friday, July 18, 2008

My Teaching Philosophy

Teaching effectively demands great rigor and intellectual effort. Few individuals possess innate abilities to teach well, rather most successful teachers have become so after diligent efforts to understand the nature of teaching and learning. I believe that the best teachers recognize what their students need most and develop practical strategies for accomplishing those ends. This iteration of my teaching philosophy relies heavily on the ideas of Robert Leamnson whose ideas are still fresh in my mind after reading his book Thinking About Teaching and Learning. This written philosophy will enable me to stand firm in promoting student learning habits that will empower them to achieve their long-term goals; I have perceived that many student attitudes impede their learning powers and ultimately their maximum potential.

Learning requires the cooperation of the brain. In biological terms Leamnson provides this definition: “Learning is defined as stabilizing, through repeated use, certain appropriate and desirable synapses in the brain” (5). Therefore, continual use of the same synapses would not constitute real learning; instead, creating new synapses and neural roads within the brain indicate that learning has taken place. In this physical sense learning is an actual physical activity that may indeed cause the head to hurt as a result of the growth that has taken place. Additionally, I believe that learning can occur throughout one’s entire lifetime.

Robert Leamnson argues that “language is at the heart of the matter” (7). Presently, his arguments make sense to me on many levels, because teachers still need tangible or oral evidence from students that learning has taken place. Traditionally, instructors require students to give presentations, take tests, and write papers. Each of these activities relies on language skills in the forms of speaking, reading, and writing. I believe that the best teachers repeatedly persuade and coax students to participate in all these forms of language skills.

In today’s society too many individuals believe that they can obtain certain goals without going through the legwork those goals require. An article (I believe it may have been in The Atlantic) I read recently discussed the dirty work of teaching in under-privileged universities and community colleges where the freshmen are very unprepared for the rigors of academic work. He ends the article with an allusion to one film that all freshmen seem to know—The Wizard of Oz. In the end the scarecrow receives a diploma and suddenly he can think, yet his spouting off of facts hardly constitutes real thinking.

While the author didn’t mention it, Dorothy had to be told the solution to her dilemma in the end. Today’s students seem to be like the scarecrow, Dorothy and Shakespeare’s Ophelia, they want all the answers and diplomas given to them. When this happens it really does not prepare them for future challenges in life. I believe that students need to be challenged in and out of the classroom; they may know what they want, but they likely do not understand the kind of work accomplishing that goal entails.

I believe that my teaching efforts make a difference. Evidence of good teaching may not always be easy to measure; however, articulate students who can express themselves through speaking and writing may be evidence of a teacher’s influence. My confidence, or lack thereof, as a teacher will be a significant factor in my abilities to persuade students to learn. I trust that strategic preparation will increase my knowledge, interest, and confidence in the classroom, which will in turn influence the students to engage with the subject matter and learning beyond the walls of the classroom.

The field of teaching and learning includes many different schools of thought. Adherence to one particular teaching method will not produce the greatest amount of learning among my students; instead, a healthy variety of techniques enacted at strategic moments will increase the desired results. Therefore, lectures, group work, dialogues with students in class, short essays, quizzes, handouts, guest lectures, term papers, exams, etc. may all prove to be useful in promoting the restructuring of student brains—learning in other words.

Ultimately, my ability to love the students will determine my success or failure as a teacher. Love will prompt me to look students in the eyes, listen to them, respect them as real individuals with a history and personal connections to others, and prepare for class adequately. If I love the students I will be less willing to talk about myself and more willing to treat them as friends—not criticizing them in a way that will demean or insult them. I will work to involve all in the classroom and praise them for positive efforts and participation in the class. I will seek to make the class interesting and challenging.


1. The ideas in this philosophy have been heavily influenced by Robert Leamnson’s book titled Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning and First Year College and University Students. Sterling, VA: Stylus, 1999.

2. For more on the Ophelia Syndrome read Thomas G. Plummer’s “Diagnosing and Treating the Ophelia Syndrome.” Thinking About Thinking: A Collection of Essays, Revised Edition. Ed. M. Kip Hartvigsen. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999. 181-190.


Simon Hart said...

The article you refer to is:

In the Basement of the Ivory Tower. (2008, June). The Atlantic Monthly, 301(5), 68-73

mauri ora


Spencer said...

Thank you for the article citation. Have you read this article yourself?