Teaching is exciting. Teaching is a grind. Teaching is a sacred duty. Teaching is tedious. Teaching is frustrating. Teaching is fulfilling.
Teaching is a calling.
I came to teaching from a life of intense formal learning. I began studying classical music in early childhood, got two degrees in it, and then an advanced degree in Leadership and Ethics. When offered my first course, I imagined that I knew exactly how to teach – just as I always wished I had been taught. This was the first of many faulty assumptions about my role as teacher. Luckily, hubris is not a quality that lasts long in the classroom. Every semester it seems I uncover a new pocket of my own ignorance and am subsequently grateful to my students for the opportunity to expand my horizons and soften my ego.
I believe that learning–the acquisition of wisdom and discernment–comes from developing critical thinking, moral reasoning, creativity, self-knowledge, and compassion.
My students come from pluralistic backgrounds, cultures, economic levels, careers, and generations. No student has the same needs, desires, or skills; each student brings unique strengths and challenges to their learning. But more importantly, they bring rich, varied, and often inspiring histories. These experiences may not have been valued in previous educational experiences; we are often taught to suspend or disregard personal experience instead of testing and integrating it. However, I believe that at the heart of learning is the ability to examine our own experiences, feelings, and knowledge in light of that which we are exploring through education.
Many students are excellent at critical thinking, but lack basic compositions skills. Others are excellent writers who need further challenges and refinements. Such is the challenge of a diverse classroom. I spend quite a bit of time working with my students on writing composition, style, and organization. Many students find this challenging, but I believe that developing good writing skills is a non-negotiable requirement of a college education.
Real learning is metabolic; information is taken in, tasted, digested, and broken into useful and non-useful parts. What is important remains; what is irrelevant dissipates. This process must take place in a container that fosters self-awareness and reflection. But the way in which each student approaches this process may be different.
I build my classes around multiple feedback mechanisms. I have taught online and blended classes; I find learning happens most consistently when I use multiple modalities. Some students enjoy the asynchronous aspects of online discussions. They have time to think about their answers and compose well-reasoned responses. Others love to argue and challenge each other (and me) in the classroom environment. They thrive on passionate discussions. I often ask my students to use videos and other forms of media to demonstrate their understanding of concepts or theories that resonate with them. This brings visual and creative learning into the mix, and is often a catalyst for collective experiences of inspiration, humor, or productive conflict. Thus, we reflect together as a class, in small groups and partnerships, in reflexive personal writing, and in critical, formal synthesis of theory.
I am a fanatically organized teacher because my students deserve value for their tuition dollars. Their time should not be spent trying to decode my syllabus or dig for resources. I am an excellent communicator. In return, I expect honesty and integrity in their work and their communication with me. I use technology to assist in teaching, and am proficient in multiple online tools, such as Moodle, Canvas and Blackboard. I also use social media and online applications such as Google Docs to both increase the relevance and applicability of the material and to simplify the work process.
These tools are invaluable in creating a consistent, organized, and intuitive learning environment, which then allows more time for emergent discussions and activities during class meetings. I have been a teacher and a student in both online and face-to-face learning environs; both have their strengths and drawbacks. I have, in the words of Eddie Izzard, techno-joy, not techno-fear. I use technology to further my goals as a teacher, which are transformation and growth. The privacy and semi-anonymity of online discourse is sometimes a safer place for students to be revelatory and introspective. The energy and dynamism of the classroom can be transformative. Both are important to my teaching.
Learning, when done well, challenges us to grow bigger, stronger, and more flexible. I bring a deep love of learning to the classroom, and I am committed to providing my students with a challenging, supportive, and stable learning environment.