“The one exclusive sign of thorough knowledge is the power of teaching.” ~Aristotle
I’ll elaborate on my teaching philosophy by giving a personal formal statement and then explaining informally how I work as a teacher. Teaching—for me—is an organic process rooted in solid pedagogy, developed by an honest responsiveness to each student, resulting in creative and purposeful learning. Teaching should be a means to improve lives and allow students to better contribute to communities both locally and regionally; therefore, excellent teaching is essential to a democracy where critical thinking and effective communication skills are necessary. In addition, teaching should be a learning experience for both the instructor and the student.
In thinking over my approach to instruction, I decided to break what I do and why I do it into a series of imperatives reflecting my core beliefs as an experienced teacher.
I believe that students respond best when a teacher is organized and prepared, that teachers teach best when they enter the classroom with a solid sense of the lessons for the day. I make sure that my students have a clear idea from day one of what will be expected from them. Students are aware each class of exactly how activities will be divided up in the time period. I also stay in contact via email and blogs with my students throughout the week. Since I go into a class with ample material and back-up material for a session, I’m able to relax and let the learning process unfold without worrying over assembling activities. I expect the same preparation from my students as well, and my expectations are met most of the time. A prepared student is ready to perform.
Understand the essentials of good writing.
In order to develop college-level writing, students must be capable of using standard grammar and punctuation easily. When guiding students in the research and organizational methods necessary for college writing, it’s often necessary to encourage out-of-class practice in grammar and punctuation basics either online or in a college tutoring center. Students who know the basics of composition are able to understand their own emerging style of writing. Creativity and organized thought at the college level come from a sound understanding of Standard English. It goes without saying that I must have a thoroughly internalized knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and style manuals and be able to explain these rules effectively.
Emphasize basic reading skills.
Students who read closely, knowing what to look for in a text, can learn to summarize and paraphrase well. I focus on activities and assignments that teach students to read with depth so that they can understand an author’s ideas and re-express these ideas in language of their own. Critical thinking requires a foundational understanding of college-level texts, so I emphasis reading skills in my lesson plans.
Try new approaches.
I’m never afraid to change up my lesson plans from semester to semester, and I love getting feedback and new ideas from other teachers. If an activity doesn’t work well for a particular class or student, I move on to a learning activity that does work. Changing up my approach to basic college-required writing assignments also serves to keep me excited about teaching because I’m learning and growing along with my students. Isn’t there always an element of change in the learning process itself?
Embrace new technology.
Technology here can mean online course management systems, blogs, videos, chat rooms, email, PowerPoint presentations, computer labs, etc. Because I’ve used computers daily in my personal and professional life since I was a teenager—one of my degrees being in Information Science—computer technology is a natural tool for me to use as a teacher. Although no machine can replace the human relationship between a teacher and a student, information technology has allowed me to reach out to students in new ways while encouraging them to be more fully members of a growing online culture. I believe that information technology can enhance the human element of teaching.
Really communicate with each student.
Students know when I’m being myself; they know when I really care about their success. My evaluations and my supervisors have noted that I have an ability to understand and interact with a wide range of students; that I work easily with students one-on-one, allowing them to think and open up during class discussions; that I leave students with a better sense of the importance of good writing, insight into their own critical thinking skills, and a curiosity about the subject of language and literature. Students who feel a part of the learning process are more apt to develop a desire for life-long learning. An upbeat rapport with each student and with the class as a whole is central to my teaching style since the cliché about attitudes being contagious is true: teachers with a positive attitude are more likely to connect with students.
Encourage student participation.
I enjoy talking to students and getting their input on class activities and assignments. It’s important to me to make them part of the learning process. While I am of course the class leader and manager, I let students feel that their voices are important and their opinions matter. I would say that an ability to engender worthwhile dialogue is one of my major strengths as a teacher, seeing my exchange of ideas with the class as an adventure leading to more than just the basic writing skills that I believe they need. Intellectual growth should be fun.
“Fun” doesn’t have to be a brainless, off-work activity. I would say that the fun I have teaching gives me as much happiness in my life as any casual relaxation activity in which I engage. Students who perceive an element of “play” in class work and interactions with the instructor and other students become fully engaged with the intellectual adventure that is real learning. I agree with Dale Carnegie here: “People rarely succeed unless they are having fun in what they are doing.”