Teaching Philosophy

My philosophy of teaching evolved from my previous experience as a news reporter/anchor and as a lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas. There are two interrelated objectives constructing my teaching philosophy; one is developing students’ abilities in critical and independent thinking and the other is fostering curiosity about other cultures and political systems besides what my students have already known with the tools of political science. My commitment to encouraging students to think critically is the result of deep reflection on my own career and personal teaching practice in the classroom. The lesson I have learned from my personal experience is that every student is teachable if the teacher knows how to adjust their way of teaching. Uninspiring lectures given by uninterested teachers recalled from my memory always reminds me how important a good teacher is to students. Fortunately, my professors in my graduate education were enthusiastic teachers that had inspired me how to make intellectual connections with students with an active learning approach.

As a teacher, knowing how to inspire, respect, and encourage students to share what they have in mind is very important, just like conducting an interview with someone who is unfamiliar with as

a journalist. Given my experience as an anchor, I know how to turn my class into a comfortable discussion atmosphere and it thus makes my students never hesitate to express their thoughts in my class. Since I truly believe that students should be at the center of my teaching, I aim to create an effective learning environment that will facilitate each student that opinion-sharing come to the course with different learning skills and a non-threatening forum to voice diverse opinions and to discuss ideas in a respectful manner.

Having the opportunity to teach different courses in the United States leads me to question my own education received in Asia. The relationship between teacher and students in Asia tends to be very hierarchical, in contrast to American culture, in which students are not allowed to have different opinions with their teachers. Yet, during my academic training in the United States, I have learned that the hierarchical relationship may limit students’ creativity and therefore I adopt the way how my professors inspired me to infuse young minds. While teaching comparative politics and Asian politics, I challenge the students’ assumptions about what they have learned in the past as well as those outside it without taking any sides. Remaining neutral, but with underlying principles that consist of various existing theoretical foundations, I encourage my students to look beyond the headlines and search for underlying factors for a range of issues from selecting electoral system in other countries to the effects of the rising China. In the media and politics course, almost every student claimed that the media bias is a serious problem in the first class, but no one can answer me why and how does the media bias exist based on any research or empirical evidence. However, at the end of the semester, all the students in my class can indicate what type of bias existing in the news. It is particularly rewarding when I am able to shift their mind-set from seeing these courses as just degree requirements to considering them as tools of empowerment that will help them analyze the actions of politicians and institutions at different levels and take an informed stand on issues.

In addition, I define myself as a political scientist but also a communicator that commutes the political scientific world to the real world. Previous political science research makes me believe that providing young generation proper political education/knowledge is a kind of infrastructure for future democratic system. Without appropriate knowledge support, people are easily misled by some wrong information. In practice, I divide class time between lectures, small and large group discussions, presentation, and even campaign simulations for my media and politics course in order to help my students become perceptive analysts of complex political events by the end of the semester. In so doing, my students are able to apply sophisticated concepts and theories of political science to real world events and problems.

In my lectures, I use PowerPoint presentations that include visual imagery, charts, and maps as well as major points and key concepts that I want to get across. In addition to textbooks, I assign a variety of written materials such as journal and newspaper articles to initiate discussion and to teach techniques for reading and analysis of academic works. I have experimented with different methods of encouraging students to come to class prepared. For example, in my Contemporary Asian Politics course, I gave a ten minute map quiz at the beginning of classes in which a new Asian country will be discussed and these map quizzes made up 10% of their final grade. To facilitate critical thinking, I developed a role playing exercise on simulating a real election campaigning in my Media and Politics class, showed a movie called “The Deal” in my Comparative Politics class to initiate discussion on politics in United Kingdom under the parliamentary system, and conducted a formal debate on the issue of the rising China is a threaten or a friend to US in Contemporary Asian Politics class. I explain to my students that these exercises serve not only the purpose of exchanging ideas, but also are designed as active learning strategies.

Moreover, I use a variety of assignments to enhance students’ writing abilities. These include response papers,

and term papers. I express to my students my strong belief that in almost every profession communicating ideas clearly in writing is an indispensable asset for success. I find devoting one class period to discuss how to write a research paper in the upper leupper-level very effective. I give my students the opportunity to rewrite papers and try to work with them individually by reviewing their drafts.

Through my teaching experience, I recognize that the fundamental quality of a good teacher is that the teacher himself is learning as he teaches and care about students’ feelings. In the sense, he is learning how the students think, what their difficulties are and how to be a more effective teacher. As a teacher of politics in the college, I see my task as providing political knowledge and information from various perspectives with a neutral viewpoint. I believe that the role of a college teacher/professor is to help students develop into independent, aware, culturally sensitive and creative individuals along the line with their own willingness. Therefore, I always remind myself to be as neutral as I can because teaching politics is not conveying personal position or opinion to

students, but providing unbiased knowledge. To me, instructors are like Disc Jockeys. We do not write new songs by ourselves but introduce different kinds of existing music to the audients and let the audients be familiar with them. Audients may not like all kinds of music, but they can listen to all kinds of music in our lecture. Because of our introducing, music will be a part of their lives. Even though they may not be able to write their own music, they will be able to choose and listen to the adequate music for different circumstances.

Teaching politics can be either a very dynamic activity or a very static work depends on whether the teacher is interested in teaching or not. Some teach the same subject many times and discover nothing new, but some can make the same subject totally different every time. Although this is not necessarily unique to political science, I believe it to be especially true in this field where new issues exist everywhere and thus teachers with interest or without interest could make a huge difference. I have never minded teaching the same class multiple times as every time it is a unique experience to me. I never teach a class exactly the same way because I draw on my previous experience and make adjustments such as adding new material or even taking an entirely a new approach.

All in all, my teaching philosophy is based on my belief that a good teacher must be a good listener. Also, he must respect his students and always willing to improve his teaching abilities. What keeps me eager to interact with students is the mutual learning process always benefits me both in improving my teaching skills and in conducting my own research. As a political scientist as well as an instructor, I hope my students can learn something useful from my class no matter they will be a scientist or not in the future. Someday, maybe I could hear a student of mine telling others, “I took a political science course before that enhanced my logical thinking and encouraged me to understand how politics work in real world and then make my own political decision wisely.”

Dennis Weng