Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Teaching Philosophy

When you apply for an academic position, you are often required to provide a statement describing your teaching philosophy. Sadly, this important exercise always turns into an employer-pleasing collection of platitudes. You talk about culture content, multimedia integration, versatility, and boring stuff like that.

So here is my real teaching philosophy. I think it works because even in a worst class I have ever taught (during my last campus visit) I managed to establish rapport with the students. Besides, I have yet to receive one negative student evaluation.

1. A class should be fun both for the students and the professor. My general rule is: if the students haven't laughed at least once during a class, this class has been a total waste of time. If you need to sacrifice the amount of information you manage to impart to laughing and telling funny stories, do it. The students will absorb whatever you teach them that much better.

2. The students learn better when they like and feel comfortable with the teacher. Some people make the mistake of trying to impose their authority by intimidation. This never works. Fear prevents people from learning. If they spend time stressing about the class, they have no energy left to absorb information and analyze it.

3. Your best teaching tool is your personality. You can spend hours glorifying the importance of intellectual pursuits, but all this talk will fall on deaf ears if the students see your life as boring and pathetic.

4. I never bug my students about absences or tardiness. We are all adults, and we know that, simply put, shit happens. You oversleep, you feel too exhausted, or you just don't feel like going to class on a certain day. So what is the purpose of forcing students to humiliate themselves by providing explanations for why they happened to be absent? How would that help the learning process?

5. Sometimes, the most important things we learn come to us during unplanned, spontaneous discussions. Who cares about the class plan if an interesting discussion begins (even when its subject is unrelated to the topic of the class)?

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