Between my undergraduate studies at a small liberal arts college and my graduate studies at a large research university, I have experienced a variety of different teaching styles and situations. My teaching philosophy has developed from those experiences and manifests as a series of provocations and explications:
My best teaching is not top-down
I almost never “lecture” to my students. Sometimes I need to get through course material quickly, but my goal is to guide the class through discussion as much as possible. When I want to teach a concept, I ask students things they might know about, use examples they are likely to understand, and push them to develop their own knowledge. My best teaching moments come through discussions with students—I tend to remember my students’ clever provocations, challenges, and insights, even years later.
Interactive learning is valuable
In my experience, students learn best when they are active. I promote interactivity in class discussions and in occasional group assignments. In any class, I demand that students speak, not just as part of discussions, but also in front of the class. I also want students to be interactive via media; I encourage students to Tweet during certain class activities, and I am exploring options such as PirateBox to let students engage in multiple ways during class time.
Students are responsible for their success, but I am responsible for enabling it
Every one of my students must earn the grade he or she eventually receives in my class. They must complete their assignments, keep up on the course material, and consult classmates for feedback and discussion. The students who seek my help almost always out-perform the students who do not contact me—not because I hold it against them, but because my best teaching is one-on-one. I make it my goal to be available for that one-on-one engagement as much as possible. I regularly remind my students that I am available to help them and that I want to see them succeed. Beyond my availability and those reminders, though, it is up to the students to seek out my help.
The best learning environment is a comfortable learning environment
With my demand that students engage in discussions and via speeches, I prioritize creating a comfortable classroom environment. I make clear to my students that the classroom is a judgment-free zone. I open discussions on sensitive issues, so I ask students to be attentive to others’ needs. To that end, I try to relax my students as much as possible. I encourage students to talk about what they find important in the world and on their campus.
My personal preference is to eschew formality in classroom discussions. I ask students to call me Jeremy, I make bad puns and outdated references, and I sometimes rearrange the room or take students outside to break the monotony of the typical learning environment. I believe these practices allow students to learn more freely, using their own experiences and relevant examples to understand and engage the material.
Technology is a central part of modern society, and of my classroom
I foresee a future in which most public engagement happens on the web, be it through Twitter town hall meetings, speeches on YouTube, or conversations on Facebook. My appreciation for technology compels me to integrate it whenever possible in the classroom. Aside from exams and students providing outlines to me for their speeches, I have gone paperless in my classes. I encourage students to keep in touch with each other via GroupMe or similar chat apps. My latest class, for example, used GroupMe and Google Drive to create study aids and to ask each other questions about course material. I encourage them to bring laptops and tablets to class to enhance the learning experience (for example, by looking up something during class that helps further our discussion), but I ask them to use their devices responsibly and respectfully.
In future courses, I hope to integrate technology more thoroughly. With the flexibility of creating my own courses, I would emphasize digital research and engagement. With the resources of a digital lab, I would assign more multimedia projects such as YouTube videos and political song remixes. As an example, I plan to include a soundscape project in future classes, asking students to create a soundtrack to a physical space on their campus and share it with their classmates.
Teaching is learning
My teaching philosophy changes and evolves over time, as do my tactics and strategies for teaching. Through working in traditional classroom environments, through coaching speech and debate, and through summer enrichment programs for high school students, I have found that adaptation is key. As I start a semester, I don’t just teach; I listen, and I learn, to understand how my students learn and what they need from me. In that way, I believe the best teachers are the best learners. I look forward to learning from my students and my peers for decades to come.