My objectives as a teacher are simple. I seek to:
inspire students to see that the subject itself is worthy of study and critical reflection and not just for a good mark in the course. To this end, I often share with students the following excerpt of a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace: “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”. I encourage students to ask “why?” as well as “how?”.
provide students with application knowledge of the subject, that goes beyond rote knowledge. I seek to use current examples that we discuss and work through together.
make a connection with every student. I know that in any class, there will be those who will pass or fail despite whatever I may do. I also know that in each class there are people with whom I can make a difference and for them especially, I create a friendly atmosphere that is supportive of learning.
provide a concrete structure for students in terms of well-defined expectations and within this structure; I work to find opportunities for innovation.
encourage my students to take responsibility for their classroom experience
respect and honour the perspective of each student
“The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life” is the title of a book written by Parker J. Palmer. I can see myself when Palmer writes that “most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands”. Palmer also writes that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher”.
As I progress on my own journey, I have been able to take these words to heart. I remain open to new alternatives for the design of my course meetings and I appreciate Palmer’s use of paradoxes to design teaching and learning spaces that: are bounded and open; are hospitable and “charged”; invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group; honour the “little” stories of the students and the “big” stories of the disciplines and tradition; support solitude and surround it with the resources of the community; and welcome both silence and speech.
I love teaching. My goal is to “challenge my students to think deeply and behave ethically”. In order to assess my success in achieving this goal I use my own instrument to collect student evaluations of my teaching (to get formative feedback at midterm and summative feedback at the end of term).
However I have understood my limitations, I have worked to get past them. As I have understood the concept of a growth mindset, I have worked to adopt it. Carol Dweck, who conducted the research and developed the concept, gave a wonderful presentation: “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve”.
Steve Jobs, in a 1995 interview from the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association, demonstrates a growth mindset: “When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
I don’t know when, or if, any student will the attach adjective “good” to my teaching, but I know that my journey is on the right path.