I have been doing a lot of teaching recently, in part because my graduate program requires it. I was also tasked with developing a short Philosophy of Teaching essay. It is much more a curriculum formality than it is a concrete philosophical text, but I thought it would be interesting to share it here.
A successful teaching philosophy must take into account how effectively complex information is communicated to other people. Communication therefore is, in my view, the most important aspect of teaching. Conceptual academic concepts require guidance. My role, as an instructor, is to provide that guidance in such a way that students not only comprehend the material, but can communicate it back to me. I seek to create a balance between preparation, dialogue and the teacher/student relationship in order to establish the most efficient academic environment.
Recently I delivered a lecture on Freudian Psychoanalysis. It was a basic structural outline of his life, his theories and their application. When I was later speaking with a student, she offered me some feedback as to my style of delivery. She suggested that I slow down during my lectures, particularly when it is dense and complex. Though I know the information well, those I am lecturing do not. I agreed with her critique, and in my own mind I critiqued myself further. What strategies, or knowledge, must an instructor take into account in order to be an effective teacher? While no specific answer exists, my philosophy is a balance of multiple variables.
Firstly, students learn on different levels. That is to say, some students grasp concepts better than others. Understanding that fact is one thing, but redressing it requires an instructor to be firmly engaged in the classroom. I am a believer in the Socratic philosophy that questions tend to answer themselves when guided correctly and posed often. While tests and quizzes serve as a guidepost, a method for student evaluation, the strongest evaluation occurs during class time. Engaging students, and encouraging them to apply the concepts learned, create an environment that allows the students to better comprehend the material and allows the instructor to evaluate his own effectiveness.
I believe that the most efficient teaching style is one that opens dialogue in the classroom. This is not always possible, nor literal, however. A lecture hall with 200 students does not allow for dialogue the way a smaller room does. It is, therefore, the instructor’s job to engage the room proactively. When I lecture, I look for positive feedback cues from students. Much of that feedback is in the form of body language. Are they interested or bored? Are they engaged? I ask myself those questions during a presentation, and look to the students for answers. I constantly read the room and make adjustments if needed. It is a back and forth process between student and lecturer.
Lastly, preparation is something that no teacher can afford to overlook. No matter how well I know a subject, I rediscover it, reread it and prepare it before a lecture. When posing challenging concepts to students, I must know the answer before I ask the question. The answers students present may provide surprising insight, and they often do, but I have a roadmap of where I want the material to lead. Any group discussion, or lecture for that matter, can go off onto tangents if the presenter is not prepared.
The best teachers I have known were excellent communicators. They spoke directly, knowingly and efficiently. When questions were posed, the answers were used to drive the curriculum forward and further entrench key concepts. My philosophy emulates that style by striking a balance between lecture and discussion, knowing the material well through preparation and accepting that students have a responsibility to the material and to the class itself. If I can balance those notions, present the curriculum effectively and address the limitations that exist, then I will fulfill my role as a teacher, and create an academic environment that serves the students well.