Philosophy of Teaching

My philosophy of teaching can better be described as a philosophy of learning. In order to be an effective instructor, I must focus on student learning and adjust my teaching strategies in response to the pace and depth of student understanding. I view teaching as an interaction between an instructor and a student; thus, the impact of this interaction on learning, rather than my activities as an instructor, is of primary importance. Approaching teaching as a scholarly activity with continual evaluations and adjustments allows me to maintain a focus on student learning and continually improve my instruction. By utilizing flexible teaching strategies, rather than strict adherence to a particular teaching style, I am able to adjust my instruction to match the abilities, learning styles, and preexisting knowledge that each student brings to the classroom. Thus, my primary role as an instructor is to create interactions which foster interest and understanding for individual students.

This approach to learning emphasizes a constructive developmental perspective. As highlighted by developmental theorists (e.g., Dewy, Vegotsky, Piaget) students learn best by actively exploring their environments. This type of experiential learning can then be fostered by having a support structure in place to facilitate understanding. The self-paced nature of exploratory learning relies on the notion that effective learning environments actively engage students with the material and promote meaningful associations between new material and information already known. As an instructor, it is my responsibility to help students generate their own context for meaning through the application of new material to their everyday lives.

Reflecting upon the dynamic interaction between pedagogy and personality, my teaching style is best described as applied, constructivist instruction.  While the specific learning goals of a course are dependent upon the nature of the course, I have three overarching goals for any course that I teach: 1) to foster critical thinking so that students may become effective consumers of information, 2) to promote mastery of course content, and 3) to encourage application of course materials to real-world contexts.

Since many education students will not become teachers, it is important to teach students information that is relevant to their lives and their futures. My goal as an educational instructor is to teach students how to critically examine information, make decisions about its relevance, and utilize the information in their own lives. Additionally, students must be taught how to reflect on their own learning. For example, after completing 15 hours of public school teacher observation, students must summarize their experiences, they must then analyze their own perceptions of each of their experiences and apply them to how they would conduct their own class, students then synthesize these experiences with theories discussed in class. This type of active, applied learning has several advantages: 1) it allows students to actively engage with the material which promotes general interest in education; 2) it assists students in developing critical thinking skills; 3) it promotes a deeper understanding of how theories are utilized in a real-world context; and 4) it enhances retention of material through active processing and the interrelationship of information.

My second broad goal as an instructor is to promote mastery of the course material. While there is a considerable amount of research concerning the educational benefits of mastery instruction, mastery learning is not often utilized due to the increased time and effort required for this type of instruction. I feel that as an instructor, it is my responsibility to determine exactly what I expect students to understand after completing my course, then to facilitate student learning so that every student reaches this level. This perspective implies that I can articulate my specific learning goals, develop assessments that effectively measure these goals, and have a support structure in place to help students reach this level of understanding. In addition, mastery learning requires flexibility in instruction as different students will master the material at different rates, and different students will require different types of assistance (cooperative groups, examples, demonstrations, activities, case studies, etc.) to foster learning.

In order to create a classroom that promotes mastery, application, and critical thinking, it is important to incorporate a variety of specific teaching strategies that help direct the learning process yet allow students the freedom of active learning. Advances in instructional technology have allowed me to move many of the basic instructional tasks out of the classroom so that valuable class time is available for more integrated, applied learning. Specifically, students use web-based resources to build course portfolios and link to pertinent study questions, tutorials and class discussions. In this way, students can use their portfolios to organize their learning, study questions to ensure that they understand the readings, and discussions to clarify understanding. I can use their portfolios to see what students find relevant and important, the results of the study questions to identify aspects of the readings that students are having difficulties with, and the discussions to tailor class time to target areas of confusion and spend less time reviewing easily understood topics. Providing the discussion questions in advance via the web allows students to think more in-depth about selected topics and to be prepared to actively participate in class discussions.

The use of web-based discussion threads promote critical thinking and interactive learning. Through discussion threads, students (or the instructor) can pose questions/comments to which others can respond. While these web-based resources do not provide any unique teaching opportunity that cannot be imitated in the classroom, they allow many activities to be completed outside of regular class time so that limited class time can be dedicated to more advanced collaborative activities. Further, web-based resources are invaluable for connecting the instructor to individual students. Students who would not voice questions in large group may be more likely to express concerns via email or participation in an online discussion.

Finally, I consider advising to be a very important part of teaching. Good advising depends on hearing what the advisee says, and sometimes what isn’t being said as well. It depends on asking the right questions and patience to wait for the real answer, not just the one that comes out first. Good listening also requires thinking about what I’ve heard before responding to it.  I owe my students my time, which includes time spent with them and time spent on their behalf For me to be a complete teaching professional, I must offer time for a conversation in the hall. I need to be in the classroom before class begins and stick around after class is over. My office door needs to be open, with me inside as much as possible for students to stop by or call for my help, advice or whatever they need. I owe them the time to read a resume and offer constructive comments. I owe them the time to discuss career alternatives they may be wrestling with, or personal problems they may bring to me. I owe my students the time necessary to write the best lessons my skills will allow. I owe them the time required to write a good, thoughtful, honest letter of recommendation when they ask. I also owe them time in thought, thinking about how I might do my job better and serve them more effectively. Good teaching is time consuming.

In summary, teaching at this level puts me in the unique position of working with college students who are in the last stage of their formal education. Thus, before they venture into the “real world,” my goal is to ensure students have a basic understanding of educational concepts and theories so that they may apply this information to their own lives and become effective, critical consumers of  information.