The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled
The highest goal I wish to accomplish as an educator is to instill or encourage in the student a passion for learning. While I certainly intend that my students learn the fundamental content of the courses that I teach, I also wish to facilitate their acquisition of life-long learning skills.
With this primary goal in mind, I believe that those who desire to effectively educate at the university level posses at least two ‘key’ characteristics:
- A core passion for learning. This drive to learn ‘more’ not only includes particular disciplinary content, but also sound pedagogical theory derived from educational research;
- The ability to create space for student learning.
In order to achieve my primary goal as an educator I ask several questions of myself every time I begin to develop a course and/or teach a class. I recall what it was like to be an undergraduate/graduate student, and ask myself, “Which instructors made a contribution to my learning? What techniques did they use? What was their approach to learning?” These types of questions help me to gain insight into the students’ perspective, something that can be forgotten by instructors the further removed they are from their own undergraduate/graduate careers. These questions also remind me that the educators that made the greatest impact in my life were those who demonstrated a passion for learning and openly modeled this characteristic. My own passion for learning has been demonstrated over the years by the pursuit of higher education and my existing research projects. I have spent many hours in the classroom, and have had the opportunity to learn, not only from some exceptional scholars, but also from my peers. From these scholars I have learned the content of the courses and have also observed their pedagogical techniques. Some of these techniques had greater ‘success’ than others, and I have attempted to adopt these and mesh them with my own teaching style. These special educators fanned my curiosity to understand human behaviour. Armed with this curiosity (and the skills learned in the classroom) I have had the opportunity to work with several research groups, which has allowed me to continue the learning process outside the confines of the classroom. I have found that the process of conducting research, working alongside others, as well as the writing and presentation of research findings all contribute to my ability to effectively educate.
While I believe that I must continue to learn within my own discipline, conduct original research, and be connected to other scholars, I also believe that I must actively develop my own pedagogical style. Demonstrating this commitment, I set aside time to attend various teaching skills workshops and attended a university teaching theory and practice course to further develop my teaching skills.
I believe that the second characteristic of an effective educator is the ability to create space for student learning. With this characteristic in mind, my lesson plans actively seek to create a student-centered classroom where students participate in directing their objectives and I act as a guide. I also try to integrate several different teaching methods in my classroom in order to accommodate the various learning styles of my students. For example, I might integrate a short lecture, individual writing, class discussion, and small group work into the same class lesson.
In addition to the two key concepts discussed above there are several beliefs that provide a further framework for my teaching philosophy: 1) fairness in dealing with the students – this fairness is not to be confused with ‘easy’ in fact, I have heard from several students that I have high expectations and I am perceived as a ‘hard marker’ but these students appear to respond to my sense of consistency and fairness; 2) the encouragement of active and critical thinking verses rote learning – often leading to some very interesting discussions and debates in and out of class; 3) course content which is challenging and current – it is important to me to introduce something cutting edge from the world of research; 4) fun and the appropriate use of humour can often be an effective vehicle for learning; 5) a caring environment; 6) recognition of student individuality (e.g., learning styles); 7) promotion of an atmosphere of active questioning within the classroom; and, 8) flexibility within the structure of the course syllabus to allow for student interests as they emerge – I do not wish to let a teachable moment to pass because I have a fixed lesson plan.
I believe that educators are responsible for the learning environment, but I would add that while a teacher retains authority in the classroom from a pragmatic perspective (e.g., assigning grades), the teacher/student relationship should display elements of partnership, working together to accomplish the course goals, with both parties walking away from the experience having learned something.