PG Cert: Teaching profile

October 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

As part of my postgraduate certificate in higher education, I have had to produce a “teaching philosophy”. I cribbed shamelessly from my job application, of course, which also requires these things. Yesterday in class we had to share these, and I found it rather embarrassing. Lofty sentiments, etc, but can you actually TEACH? My students of course must be the judge. Anyway here it is in all its cringeworthy glory.

Teaching Philosophy

The excellent teachers of my own experience had in common a love of their subject that was plain to see. They involved me and my fellow students in a journey to a foreign land of knowledge and accustomed us to its ways of thinking. My goal is to be that kind of a teacher – a great teacher, the kind people talk about, come back to, take all the classes from whether they thought they were interested or not; the kind that you really remember.
It can be difficult for students, owing to a range of pressures and prior experiences, to want to go beyond surface learning – the desire to get “the facts” in a well-organised and easily digestible manner so as to pass their courses with the desired marks. It’s my job as a teacher to lead them into learning more than that (although actually learning the facts is also a big part of it). Based on my own experiences and also on my reading into the literature of pedagogy in higher education, I strive to put into practice the following principles in my own teaching:
Be both knowledgeable and selective: teach things I know and furthermore that I know to be interesting. When I have been a TA teaching seminars to go along with a lecture, it has been much more difficult for me to engage students in material that I myself would not have chosen or don’t find particularly interesting. On the other hand in my methods courses, guest lectures, and in the course I designed, I was able to pick and choose materials knowing exactly WHY they were the most interesting; and in the cases where I thought I “should” put something in that I found dull, I regretted it as the resulting classes fell flat. If I had to pick between knowing the material and knowing that it was interesting, I would pick the latter – some of my most fascinating courses have been in subjects where teachers involved the class in ongoing research problems in which they were not sure of the answers.
Engage the senses. The poor teachers that I have had showed me that simply lecturing is possibly the worst way to teach that there is. I try to add non-listening activities to classes. For example, in teaching students how to analyse logfile data, I have prepared slips of paper with different quantitative statements, which the students had to arrange in logical order. In my participant observation classes where I taught note-taking, one group of students observes another engaged in a task and both reflect on the their notes and on the way the two groups interacted. Students have said to me that these aspects of the classes were the ones they most appreciated. I would like to add other methods to my repertoire. There is much evidence to suggest that students learn in different ways, and further that the heavily verbal ways familiar to most academics are the difficult for many students.
Be respectful of the students’ intellects. For me this means more than active listening in class (although that is obviously important). It means being demanding and challenging, setting good questions and encouraging good discussion. As a part of this principle, I support the practice of self-assessment, or encouraging students to grade themselves. Many studies show that students are nearly as effective as faculty in judging good and bad answers and essays, if they are given the opportunity to read a variety of material. In one of my classes I asked students to read a poor essay and an excellent essay on the same topic (from the previous year’s answers) and tell me which was which and why. Students reported to other professors that this was extremely helpful in their own essay writing and requested similar sessions for their other classes. I have also given test questions to a class and asked them to mark each others’ answers and evaluate the criteria for a good answer.
Be properly critical. Respect for students’ intellects means a lack of tolerance for poor work. In my critiques I strive to combine a specific analysis of the flaw while encouraging them to do better. These two must go hand in hand: a critique without a specific counter-example is difficult to learn from. Critiques given without confidence in the student’s ability are simply discouragement.

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