Monday, July 28, 2008

Updated Teaching Philosophy

I look up to good teachers, and not just because of my short stature. They have influenced my life in many positive ways for many years. First, my mom repeatedly taught me in individual and family settings; her enthusiasm and fervor for the subjects impacted all of us, and many life lessons I retain to this day from her. While my dad does not excel as a teacher in my mind, his interest in multiple subjects is a characteristic I have adopted as well. Rick Davis taught my Humanities 202 course the second semester of my college career, and he injected intense interest into all the students in our section. Granted, we were “honors” students, and he treated us as future “movers and shakers.” His love for the subject and for his students inspired me to major in the humanities. Other influential teachers have also exhibited genuine interest in their subject and students; I want to emulate these teaching qualities.

Since a young age I have immersed myself in books. As an undergraduate and graduate student in the humanities, I spent large amounts of time studying and using the resources in the library. Toward the end of my master’s program I began talking more with librarians and decided to pursue librarianship as a career. It matched my insatiable interest in learning, my desire to help other people, and my inclinations to teach in an academic setting. Becoming information literate has become essential in today’s society. Knowing where and how to find the most relevant information can really be a vital skill. With my duties as a reference and instruction librarian I can teach in many situations and also be involved in many areas of information. I find that the more I become involved in a subject the more interesting it becomes; libraries and research techniques have become much more fascinating to me, and I hope students and instructors can benefit from the knowledge I have gained in recent years.

For me, teaching is a very respected and challenging endeavor. Unlike many activities in life, it seems to be more difficult to gauge the success of a teacher, because the outcomes of teaching are difficult to measure. A student’s brain growth cannot easily be measured. Nonetheless, I want to influence students to become thinkers and eager learners. As a librarian I focus a lot on helping students navigate the realm of information and evaluating their results. As an individual I love to read about many diverse topics, and delving deeper into a subject of interest. Likewise I want to share my passion for information and knowledge with students.

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. 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 requires time, effort, and patience. Additionally, I believe that learning can occur throughout one’s entire lifetime, yet the more someone learns the more complex things become.

Robert Leamnson argues that “language is at the heart of the matter” (7). His arguments make sense 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, which relies on language skills such as speaking, reading, and writing. I believe the best teachers repeatedly persuade and coax students to participate in all these forms of language skills. My goal is to incorporate more collaborative and active learning strategies to make the learning process more exciting and effective for students. Collaborative learning requires that students make use of more parts of the brain.

From personal experience, I have felt better about my learning accomplishments to the extent that I have been active in speaking, writing, and reading about the content at hand. As a graduate student I had more fear of speaking up than I did as an undergraduate; I felt more pressure to say something brilliant. Students need to get started talking, build off of their peer’s ideas, and synthesize their learning. Fears need to be diminished in the classroom, and I want students to feel comfortable and safe expressing their ideas. They need validation, so I hope to recognize their contributions in a positive manner. The affective component in learning is vital.

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. The author 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 (X 73).

While the article’s author didn’t mention it, Dorothy had to be told the solution to her dilemma. Today’s students seem to be like the scarecrow and Dorothy, they want all the answers and diplomas given to them. There seems to be a mentality that if they paid the dues, they have the right to the piece of paper in the end. 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 want to be a mentor and a colleague for students, one that coaches students on the ins and outs of the research process.

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 provide 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. Strategic preparation will be necessary throughout my entire career, as all situations differ one from another.

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, while also striving for fairness and in class policies. I will work to follow the professional ethics established by my profession and institution as well as my own personal values and belief system.

Works Consulted

Leamnson, Robert. Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning and First Year College and University Students. Sterling, VA: Stylus, 1999.

Plummer, Thomas G. “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.

X, Professor. “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower.” The Atlantic Monthly 301.5 (June 2008): 68-73.

No comments: