I truly enjoy the process and experience of teaching. I always hope students learn as much from me as I learn from them. Teaching others is a great deal more than just exposing them to new ideas and crafting assignments that help them apply those ideas. Being an effective teacher means enacting a complex of functions determined by students, subjects, and situations. These functions include educating, mentoring, counseling, morally guiding, empathetically listening, cheerleading, modeling and, in some respects, befriending. My own beliefs about teaching, and what makes someone a good teacher, are grounded in my beliefs about how all human beings should treat each other. As such, they are more philosophical and emotional than educational and practicable. Teaching others necessarily engages the emotions of actors. It means challenging learners to answer life's difficult questions, such as:
The key challenge to being an effective teacher is summed up in what I believe to be the three central issues involved in working with other human beings in situations of differential power. There can be no mistaking the power difference between teacher and students. At its best, teaching is a benevolent dictatorship; at its worst, it can be tyranny. Discussions of democratic decision making are often lofty and despite teachersí claims to the contrary, students know teachers have more power than them. Acting as if this is not the case is somewhat naÔve and potentially misleading to students. Taking this power differential into consideration, and building on the basic human respect and dignity we all owe one another, I strive for an equilibrium between practicing transparency and immediacy and using a fair but indispensable level of ďpolicing.Ē The following outlines my beliefs and intentions and, I hope, reflects my practices in and out of the classroom. I present it in a bulleted list of ďadviceĒ to remind myself of my own goals. These best state my teaching philosophy.
∑ Honesty: Be honest with students about the mistakes you make, your shortcomings and human weaknesses, and your status as a life-long learner. Remember that regardless of how many times youíve taught a course, each new group of students is a different and unique learning experience for everyone involved.
∑ Genuineness: Forget trying to be anyone else; embrace your uniqueness and use it as a tool to educate. Bring what you love into classroom!
∑ Openness: Show students who you really are. Expose your inner person incrementally when it serves educational goals and purposes.
∑ Willingness: Be willing to listen to feedback, accept constructive criticism, and see other points of view. Be able to bend so you wonít break--practice the law of least resistance.
∑ You liking them: Develop a true fondness for students. Look for and find their strengths and then build on those strengths. See them as unique, interesting individuals. Befriend them and teach them.
∑ Them liking you: Make an effort to develop studentsí positive regard--they will learn more from you. It does matter if students hold you in positive regard; some may argue that teachers need only gain studentsí respect. It is difficult to earn respect, however, when youíre not positively regarded .
∑ Practicing nonjudgment: Avoid negative judgments of those youíre trying to teach. Negative judgments often turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecies. Remember that your judgments of others often say more about you than they do about those being judged.
∑ Using laughter: Bring fun and laughter into the classroom. Show students that learning is fun, exciting, and energizing. Have fun teaching. When your teaching stops being fun, itís time to do something different.
∑ Availability: Make yourself available to listen to students no matter how busy your schedule. Extend office hours during especially trying periods during the semester (when assignments are due or finals are approaching). Encourage them early to come and speak with you should problems arise. Practice tolerance when they wait until the last minute.
∑ Extra work: Remember that every rule you create is accompanied by the monitoring work necessary to police it. For example, if you require written excuses for absences, you have to demand, collect, and judge the veracity of those excuses. Unless there is an educational purpose for a rule, it doesnít make sense to use your limited time enforcing it.
∑ Energy: You only have so much energy and never enough time--use both wisely. Spend more time teaching and less time doing police work.
∑ Cheating: Start from a place of faith in their honesty. Remind them that "what comes around goes around" (the law of karma). Give a short philosophy lesson about a universal truth: We get out of life what we put into it. If students cheat, use compassion and forgiveness with punishment and donít take it personally. They didnít cheat you; they cheated themselves.