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Philosophy of Teaching

A philosophy of teaching can be difficult to express succinctly.  To clearly identify one's overarching points of view on all of education is quite an undertaking. As educators, it seems that we have decided that teachers need to be in one of two camps: either student-centered or teacher-centered.  For me, both educational camps have validity and a marriage of the two comprise an effective teacher. The ability to discern which teaching strategy to employ enables a class to run successfully and students to learn material well. It is for that reason that I describe myself as subject-centered.  To me, this means that individual situations determine the appropriate method of teaching.  There are times where the instructor needs to lead the class in lecture to demonstrate complicated skills or lecture about controversial readings employing teacher-centered techniques.  There are also times when the instructor should field discussions, reflections, and personal experiences from the class or engage in student-led conferences utilizing student-centered teaching techniques. It's important to not let one certain pedagogical or andragogical theory predetermine the teaching of any given material and to remain adaptable in all teaching situations.

Because I am a subject-centered teacher, I find myself straddling the line of, as compositional theorist Peter Elbow says, being a protector of content expectations and being an ally of my students.  I am of two minds; while I truly believe that teachers need to have the highest of expectations for our students in terms of content mastery, I would also argue that teachers need to serve and encourage students to discover while they learn.  In the classroom, this plays out in several ways.  For instance, for each unit of study my students are first given the guidelines and expectations that they must meet in order to be considered masters of the material.  It follows then that I must not only teach but encourage, aid, discuss, and question them throughout the learning process.

I have found that teaching writing as a reflective practice is most effective, like compositional theorist George Hillocks, Jr. suggests.  No course is an exact replica of the previous one taught.  With each group of a students, new strengths and concerns arise.  In order to truly asses these, I employ a reflective practice in which I identify the area of weakness, develop a new method for addressing that area of weakness, employ that new teaching method, and asses the results afterwards.  For example, in my 2014 course on Composition and Rhetoric, my students were experiencing difficulty applying the writing concept of "entering into the academic conversation" coined by Gerald Graff and Kathy Birkenstein.  Upon noticing this, I supplied my students with a model essay demonstrating the concept and had them identify, explain, and practice using the concepts utilizing a template from They Say I Say.  From this discussion and writing, I was able to asses if my students could both identify the concepts of entering into the academic conversation and if they were able to apply these same concepts.  In all, reflective teaching of writing enables me to constantly reflect on student learning and how it intersects with my own teaching.

In general, I find myself constantly hovering the line of protector of standards and ally of student, just as Peter Elbow argues.  It's a fun line to hover, though.  Finding the balance between those two seemingly opposite points of view makes for a challenging and encouraging learning environment that many of my students have grown to know and love.