Philosophy of teaching

For a more detailed presentation – including citations and personal reflection on teaching experiences – see the extended version.

My teaching goals are to engage students, to generate classroom dynamism and conversation, to assess individual goals and approaches to learning, and to forge a safe and open learning space. As a teacher cognizant of such manifold objectives, what obligations do I have toward my students to improve, and, further, what are my wider obligations to society to develop qualities as a teacher that build on innate student potential?

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Nakhon Nayok, Thailand, July 2015

Classroom learning can be characterized both by violence and by transformation. I orient my teaching with English-language learners and with writing and composition students by remaining conscious of this paradox. Thus, I’m deeply committed to the pastoral side of teaching. A second prong of this philosophy would be the incantation to “teach with the attitude of a student.” With regard to theory, I favor an approach to learning that, while inevitably inadequate in practice, aims to empower students both in the classroom and as their voices contribute to community. My expectation is that students come to honor their own ideas and discourse styles and to realize that neither I nor competing authorities should stand in for the student’s sense of personal integrity and their individual life history. Certainly, I encourage students to notice my own struggles and to critique and question me as part of their learning process.

Sometimes it is necessary to directly challenge learners to realize their unbounded capacities, pushing resistant students to previously unimagined achievements. In my experience, motivation can be instilled while working alongside, rather than standing sage-like on a platform. My most influential teachers have honored my ideas and creative efforts while not seeming to “stand above.”

Methodologically, I believe that I facilitate open inquiry and the unexpected. For English-language learners, my preferred approach is eclectic, cognizant that I am punting the ball down the field as I say that. To me these are not speakers of foreign languages but possessors of their own languages. That is, the students have free agency, endowed by their native speech and communicative styles with all the cognitive tools that I and other native English-speakers possess and, indeed, with novel ways of seeing the world that should be honored as part of classroom discourse. They have the right to speak; students, in fact, should dominate the speaking. By providing students a safe space to experiment, I hope to empower them in meeting their language goals.