Thursday, April 07, 2011

Teaching Philosophies

Sisyphus, over at Academic Cog, put up a meme about teaching philosophies the other day. For those not in the "ed biz," a lot of jobs or evaluation things within jobs ask college teachers to write a philosophy of teaching, or a Statement of Teaching Philosophy. What they want mostly, I think, is to hear that you don't think abusing students is good, and that you're enthusiastic and try to respond to student needs.

It's thus difficult to find a teaching philosophy that doesn't sound pretty darned careful and canned. I always try to vote down asking for them on search committee ads.

I also cringe when I see colleagues reading them, because the comment one statement makes indicating a commitment to assessment, received with lauds by the person who loves assessment, is received as a sort of warning bell to most of us. But not putting one in will raise the hackles of our assessment lover.

I wasn't going to say anything but as long as I have, I'd like to note that several people have also responded: Here's what Dame Eleanor Hull has to say, and here's what Heu Mihi at the Age of Perfection has to say.

But then I got thinking. And while I don't want to actually craft a statement, here's what I'd more or less like to say if I did:

I'd like to start out saying that when I wrote my last such statement, ten or so years ago, I really thought I knew how to teach pretty well. I tried to be enthusiastic and responsive to student needs, tried to teach to different student learning styles and to encourage students in developing critical thinking and writing skills. But, I've since learned that I had a lot to learn. I've now been at this job some ten years, and I've learned a lot about teaching. I've become much more aware of trying to give different sorts of assignments to give students an opportunity to develop skills with low stakes assignments and to show off their skills with higher stakes assignments. I've grown much better at slowing down and helping students move through a project or assignment. I've learned to write much better assignments and organize courses better, both because students have helped me and because I've learned from colleagues, both junior and senior. For example, I did a class observation of a junior colleague a couple of years ago, and s/he had put the research paper earlier in the composition course than I had. And she explained why, and it made really good sense. So I tried changing my course around, too, and it worked well.

In the past ten years, then, I've learned to change up class activities more, and have a larger repertoire of ideas to draw on to help students develop their skills at reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I've learned to write better courses and better assignments, and have learned to think about how my course fits into a curriculum (both a departmental and a general education curriculum) more effectively.

I'm looking forward to another 10-15 years of teaching. And I hope my teaching will change as much in the next ten years as it has in the past ten years. I hope I'll learn as much, grow as much, as I have in the past ten years, because I have a lot to learn. So my philosophy is that I will try to learn and change as much or more in the next ten years as I have in the previous ten.

I've also learned that I have a deeper love of learning and teaching than I realized, and that working with students and colleagues is more rewarding and challenging all the time.

Feel free to ask me again in ten years, if we make it that long.

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