Teaching Philosophy

            During my own undergraduate career I was introduced to many great teaching professionals. Looking back on them I notice now that the teachers who were the most influential on my own teaching practices were from several different subjects.  Even though the subjects included history, mathematics, physics, or others courses, they used similar styles to help in my understanding of the materials. Now being an instructor myself I seek to use these techniques in hopes of benefiting my own classes.

            The first important technique I use is to show interconnections between small bits of information and large concepts. My best instructors all constantly demonstrated how new information stacks on prior knowledge both in the real world and the classroom. They each taught not information, but rather systems. I have had history teachers that showed how events centuries ago still shape our modern era. I instruct biology in the same way. As we move from metabolites, into biochemical pathways, into cell functions, tissues, and entire organisms we need a firm knowledge of the prior layer. A top down and bottom up approach as they refer to it in physiology allows for better understanding of each individual bit of information as we see the role each part plays on a larger or smaller scale. Once students see the connected levels, it makes small concepts more relevant and less forgettable.

            The second important technique I use is to have a wide array of teaching tools at my disposal. My best instructors used a variety of different methods and materials and tried to match them with each new concept that they were teaching. I have had chemistry teachers that showed how in synthesis of molecules you can choose many different routes to create complex molecules from other smaller molecules, but there may also be a best way you can find to get your greatest end result. In the instruction of my classes I use a variety of techniques to explain complex concepts and I constantly try to find new teaching methods to complement each of those concepts. Every time I prepare for a class I ask myself, “What tools do I need for this job?”.  Does this class have any concepts that require a physical object to understand? Can I make any analogies that my class would be familiar with? Should I take a break in the middle for students to talk this part over in groups and see what they can do to help each other? In trying various techniques, I have found more effective ways to explain difficult information.

            The third important technique I use is less about what I say and more about how I am in the classroom. My best instructors always maintained three very important ways of interacting with students. They were always enthusiastic, available, and adaptable. No matter what I’m teaching I have to do it with enthusiasm. We desire our students to be enthralled with new information and we can’t expect that from them unless we expect it from ourselves. Being available is also just as important. For a busy instructor our time is valuable to us, but so much more valuable to a student. If a student stops me with a question on my way out the door, or sends an email in the evening time, I know I need to pause what I’m doing and try and help that student. I might be ten minutes late getting home or miss part of the show I was watching. I might have lost a little time, but that student might have gained a lot for me giving them my time and they are more likely to ask other questions now that they see you are available. Lastly, and probably the most important, you need to be adaptable. Over my time teaching I have seen strong differences from class to class and from student to student. I try my best to adapt myself and my methods to nurture the cultural and social needs of my students and to be accepting of the diverse backgrounds seen in today’s student body.

            Using all the techniques I have mentioned here has allowed many of my students to reach the expectations and goals that I have for them. I want my students to be able to proceed on to their chosen field having gained understanding of new concepts that will help them on their way. I want them to be inquisitive and aware of the world around them. Additionally if they should ever find themselves as instructors one day, I hope they can look back and use some of the same techniques that my former instructors and I have used to help their students to achieve their own goals someday.