Teaching Philosophy

When I first met with graduate TAs at University of the Pacific, they were taken aback by my approach to teaching because it differed so radically from the previous head instructors. The graduate TAs were used to rigidity—precise dicta for everything that had to happen in the classroom at every moment—so they were surprised when I emphasized instructor flexibility. I believe that learning is fluid and dynamic and that teaching needs to be rhetorically adaptive to the needs of students. I always thought that my teaching was “student-centered,” but until recently, I didn’t realize just how well “student-centered” describes my philosophy. I consistently center the needs and voices of students in my classrooms in a number of ways:

First, I take a discussion-based approach to teaching, suggesting to students on the first day that their shared experiences are just as valuable as my expertise. When I want to teach a concept, I ask students to reflect on their own memories and knowledge, so we can draw the concept through lived experiences and practical examples. Recently, for example, I led students through a discussion of how communication and rhetoric happen at a basketball game. Through the conversation, the students realized that even things as simple as the lines on the court shape human behavior. The discussion drew in students who otherwise hadn’t seemed engaged. By meeting students on their terms and guiding them through critical thinking, I believe they learn far more and connect with each other far better than they would from listening to me lecture.

Second, I take the perspectives of students seriously and adjust my courses to their needs. At the start of each class period, I offer a few minutes for what I call “open mic”—time for students to bring up things they find interesting in the world, on campus, and in their lives. I give them time to speak and discuss what they find important and then I work to connect it with course content. In open mic, we talk about world news, political happenings, campus controversies, and local events. When possible, I change readings, activities, and discussion prompts to fit the students’ learning interests—for instance, I’ve added content about livestreaming in Communication Technologies in response to student interest. As students requested multiple ways of engaging in my courses, I’ve also developed spaces for them to discuss through online discussion boards, text chats, and collaborative Google Docs.

Finally, I prioritize students’ well-being. I start by including language on my syllabus indicating that I recognize different needs and that I will work with students to ensure their success. I always remind students that they need to take care of themselves by eating regularly, sleeping enough, and relaxing. We talk about mental health, disabilities, and different learning styles. When it comes to missing classes or needing extensions, I fall on the forgiving side, because I’d rather some students “get away with” something than let vulnerable students feel isolated, excluded, or uncapable. I care about the students’ work, of course, but more than that, I care about them staying healthy, energetic, and confident.

Particularly in the midst of a pandemic, I have found that cooperation, compassion, and flexibility help all students, and especially vulnerable students, succeed in my class and beyond. I see my role as being a facilitator, mentor, and collaborator. That’s what “student-centered” means to me: listening and adjusting to students’ needs. I work to foster compassion, care, and cooperation in the classroom, shaping inclusive, diverse, and just spaces for students to learn and grow.