During my eleven years of teaching, many experiences have shaped my teaching practices. I have taught first year students through graduate students, taught as part of a team, taught in an online/in-class hybrid course, and taught in courses connected across disciplinary boundaries. I have published articles and book chapters about teaching and mentoring students and taught graduate pedagogy courses. Through it all I have focused on three core principles: constant inquiry, attention to detail, and individual relevance.
There are few areas of inquiry in which all scholars are in agreement. As such, it is useful to expose students not only to the prevailing orthodoxy, but also to scholars who challenge generally accepted ways of understanding the topic at hand. To that end, I carefully curate readings that provide differing viewpoints on the phenomenon under consideration. I will include, when appropriate, readings with which I disagree and provide them with evidence supporting my stance while still explaining how the author may have arrived at his or her conclusion. As a result, my students are more critical scholars who resist taking information at face value.
Closely related to a stance of continual inquiry is an attention to detail. Scholarship is all about the details, and one reason I stopped using textbooks was because important details were often glossed over. In my persuasion course, I had students act out an infomercial in small groups for the final class presentation. Each group was required to create an annotated script justifying each element of the infomercial. Students had to consider the reasons different approaches worked well in some situations for specific people and failed in other cases. This required extensive research, and students had to draw on literature from many different disciplines to support their arguments. As a result, these students emerged from the course with more than a general understanding of persuasion theory; they understood how different theories worked together and which strategies would be in conflict.
Once students understand the material and are able to synthesize it, they must learn to apply it. When students are able to apply the material to their own lives, they are more likely to retain that knowledge. When I teach rhetorical theory, I ask students to write bi-weekly reflection papers that apply the readings to their desired profession. The final paper has students synthesize these reflections into a coherent whole with the prompt, “what do people in your profession need to know about rhetorical theory?” In my intercultural communication course I had students write an autoethnography final paper that allowed them to apply research and theory to their own experiences. In my media literacy course, I had students create a piece of satire in any medium (except plain text) that related to their career path. They then had to justify their stylistic choices through an accompanying paper.
My pedagogical practice is focused on creating specialists; I am not content to provide merely a passing understanding. My goal is to help students understand, synthesize, and critically apply the material. Teaching is more than delivering content; when students learn, they change for the better.
My view of teaching is best encapsulated by Plutarch: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” My role as teacher is to create an atmosphere of inquiry. Students should question me, each other, and, most importantly, themselves. Rather than providing them with information, my objective is to provide them with the means to create information. This requires a learning environment in which creativity and risk are rewarded rather than punished. In the classroom, my teaching style is best described as “Socratic.” I teach by questioning. I question students, they question me, as well as themselves and each other, and together we arrive at the closest approximation of truth available to us. By critically evaluating their premises, beliefs, and assumptions, students learn to build a stronger, clearer vision of how the world should be and what they must do to make that vision a reality. I do not merely teach subject matter; I teach inquiry. In other words, I teach a way of living more fully.
How I view students shapes my teaching dramatically. Students are not customers, consumers, or trainees. Students are agents of change endowed with intellect, beliefs, and life experience. They will use this knowledge for good or ill throughout the rest of their lives. Higher education is a space in which each student can learn to calibrate his or her moral and intellectual compass toward the truth as he or she understands it. I teach in order to make the world a better place. I accomplish this by helping to transform students a few individuals at a time. I help shape the future leaders and citizens of the world. My role as teacher is to assist in that calibration. This transformation is not a change into my image or an image that the world teaches them to become. Rather, it is a metamorphosis into the people that they always believed they could become. I am only a small part of this process; many come before me and many come after. I am only one partner in each student’s learning, which partnership includes me, the student, other teachers, college administrators, and the student’s peers in the class. Even so, the part I play should help each student to mold himself or herself toward his or her more exalted image. To teach is to take part in a slow, quiet revolution.
My students are not “kids” or “boys and girls.” My students are adults. It is my duty to help them to realize this fact and to live up to the expectations placed upon them as such. I believe that all of my students want to learn and that it is my duty to discover how they learn. In each student’s mind, he or she can see a better world; it is my duty to help each one to develop the skills to transform those dreams into reality. I do this by providing a framework that will support the students. Because the search for knowledge does not end when the class period is over, I make myself available outside of class and office hours to help the student grapple with the subject matter. I provide useful feedback that will help each student grow and improve. I tailor my in-class discussions, assignments, and evaluations toward helping each student attain mastery of the material. I constantly reassess my teaching practices in order to make them more effective. Most importantly, I recognize that I am not teaching a class; I am teaching a group of individuals, each with a name, a personality, and a particular view of the world.
I am always teaching, whether through my actions or my inaction. The ability to teach is not limited to the classroom environment. If the lessons I wish for the students to learn can best be learned outside of the classroom environment, so be it. Sometimes it is easier to bring the student to the lesson than to bring the lesson to the student. I believe that subject matter and community events can be skillfully intertwined to make the subject matter more relevant to the students. In my professional life, research and teaching are inextricably intertwined. Of what use is research if one cannot learn from it? I teach because there is no greater pursuit than the pursuit of knowledge. When one attains knowledge, he or she is obligated to act upon it. When students learn to engage in critical inquiry, the world will become a better place. To teach is to engage in a constant struggle against societal entropy. Without critical inquiry, society would eventually collapse into anarchy and barbarism. I teach so there will always be those who will stand up in the face of injustice and ignorance. I teach in order to ensure that the next generation will be more educated—intellectually, spiritually, emotionally—than my own. I teach for a brighter future. I am not only student centered; I am future centered.