Philosophy of Teaching
My philosophy of teaching has evolved from the past decade of teaching experience, classroom instruction and personal reflection. As I consider my beliefs regarding teaching and learning, I find that my mission as an instructor is threefold:
- to create a classroom atmosphere inviting to all learners,
- to spark learner enthusiasm,
- and to provide a strong foundation for lifelong learning.
To accomplish this, I apply five basic tenets that act as guiding principles and pedagogical anchors for my instructional approach: Equity, Differentiation, Clarity, Consistency, and Availability.
Equity: Essential to creating a classroom environment conducive to the learning of all students is the concept of equity. Students must feel that they are treated with respect and that they are valued as much as any other student so that their motivation can be maintained. In order to work towards this goal, I draw from the Humanistic educational philosophies of Knowles and Rogers and ask for learners’ input on all levels of class construction. At the beginning of every semester, I survey the students for their interests and reasons for taking the class. Throughout the semester, I administer class evaluations every five weeks to elicit student opinions on classroom activities and to incorporate those suggestions into classroom practice. By doing these things, I hope to accomplish two goals: 1) to provide meaningful education to all students regardless of learning style and 2) to make the learning experience relevant to the lives of all students. The opinions of all in my class are valid, and the creation of an environment for their expression is to create one of equity.
Differentiation: Due to the multiplicity of learning styles that one encounters in the undergraduate classroom, instructors should be aware of various manners to differentiate instruction and, more importantly, they must be open to trying new pedagogical models. Understanding the learning style of individual learners helps me both design and tailor effective instruction by implementing appropriate global and/or concrete strategies. Depending on the content being taught, I routinely strive to achieve a 3:1 ratio of constructivist or collaborative learning activities to behaviorist activities. As a result, I employ a variety of group models (jigsaw method, think-pair-share, STAD model) throughout the length of the class. In addition, I employ problem-based learning activities so that students can bring their prior experience to the group and through it, as Dewey famously showed, can attach meaning to their current learning. Only rarely do I engage in lecture, and when I do, it constantly makes use of student participation. However, I stick close to the behaviorist principles of mastery knowledge and explicit objectives and competencies for instruction. This helps me teach with both clarity and focus.
Clarity: An essential consideration for instructors on the post-secondary level pertains to transparency in instruction and evaluation. Whatever the educational model, the goals of any instructional plan must be clear to students. Otherwise, it loses relevance and student motivation may decrease. Therefore, for all my lessons, I clearly communicate expectations and outcomes to students and take pains to help students see the value that the lesson has for their studies. One of the aspects of instruction in which clarity is most visible is in assessment. For each assessment, students are given a checklist that lists measurable actions that they should be able to do in order to succeed in the assessment. In the same vein, every activity that has a bearing on the students’ grades in my classes has a clearly articulated rubric, checklist, or some other measure of expectations. When students understand the goal towards which they are working, motivation is more easily increased and students can be sure that their hard work is moving towards a concrete end.
Consistency: Along with the idea of Clarity, the tenet of Consistency is of vital importance. Clearly stated boundaries and standards have long formed the backbone of many a successful behaviorist classroom. From the start of the semester, consistent standards for performance are stated in my class syllabus and assessment rubrics; these standards are agreed upon by the class through individually signed learning contracts and are not deviated from unless the entire class and I deem it necessary (e.g., an assessment may be postponed if student comprehension has not been solidified). Through consistently applied standards and expectations, students know what is expected in assessments and can devote their entire attention to content mastery instead of worrying over vague or unclear standards.
Availability: The last tenet that guides my teaching philosophy, availability, manifests itself in two distinct areas: availability proper and feedback. The first of these is essential to all educational theories, whether or not it be instructor-based or learner-based. The educator is the main pillar of support for students and must be available to assist students throughout every step of the learning process in order to provide encouragement and insight. In order to do this, I always hold 5-10 hours of office hours every week for students to come discuss the class on an individual basis. In addition, since the educational process is not limited to two or three semesters a year, I make a point to organize student groups to continue their studies throughout the summer and winter breaks. I have engaged in such informal education both at local coffee shops and through asynchronic online learning because I feel it is essential to the maintenance of student motivation between the academic years. The second aspect of availability, feedback, is more specific to the classroom setting. In order to keep student motivation and interest high, prompt feedback is essential. Therefore, I strive to get graded assignments back to students by the next class, regardless of the constraints of my own schedule. In addition, I make a point to email students individually halfway through each semester to provide feedback about how they are doing in the class, what they are doing well, and what they could improve upon. By making myself available for students, they are able to receive more efficient feedback, which leads to a better educational experience and a feeling of support and relevance throughout the class.
Following these basic principles has helped me grow in my love for teaching and learning. More importantly, I have discovered that, by sharing my excitement for teaching and learning, and using these principles with enthusiasm and empathy, I connect with learners. As a result, I hope that my teaching, built on the foundation of these five tenets, has had a significant impact on learners from all walks of life, ultimately connecting them to their passion and cultivating within each of them a desire for lifelong learning.