My Teaching Philosohpy
I believe we learn the most about ourselves when we are faced with a challenge. People challenge me. In the most rewarding and truly beautiful way imaginable, people challenge me. I have always considered myself to be an outgoing person, by nature, and I thrive in the presence of others. Getting to know people at a deep level and connecting with them through thought-provoking conversation is one of the aspects of my life that I find to be most enjoyable and rewarding. I love the energy that my peers, colleagues, and mentors bring to my life. Their own beliefs and ideals challenge my thought processes, they push me to look at the world through different lenses, and they unequivocally impact the way I view the world. However strange the dichotomy may seem, I have also always had a powerful fear of speaking in front of people and commanding a room. Because of this, when I was asked to lecture to a classroom of 100 students while the professor I worked for was out-of-town, I was instantly fearful. I spent a great deal of preparing, making notes about the points I would stress on each PowerPoint slide and imagining every single potential question that could arise at different times in the lecture. I was nervous. Prepared, yes, but nervous. By this time in the semester, I had gotten to know a few of the students well, particularly the ones who were regular office hour attendees. Before the lecture began, one of the students whom I had come to know well during the course of the semester came to me, placed her hand on my shoulder, and said, “Sarah, I’m so excited for lecture today.” This was the moment when everything changed for me. I could feel the fear subside from my body. My shoulders relaxed. I realized that I was not there for myself. I was not there to prove myself to them or to show that I could stand in front of a group and not make a fool of myself. I was there to provide the students with the opportunity to learn. Perhaps I was there to provide myself an opportunity to learn as well, but they were the focus- I was doing this for them. I walked out of the lecture hall that day with a stunning rush of clarity about the job I was meant to do. I wanted to spend the rest of my life facilitating the education of others. I wanted to teach.
In John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, he presents, in my opinion, one of the most important and profound quotes in the book. He says, “And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.” I believe that the message here fits closely with the importance of teaching in the 21st century because it reinforces the significance of the individual. It is true now, just as it was in 1952 when the novel was written, that the power of free will is one of the most treasured of all human capabilities. It is our job therefore, as educators, to point students in the direction that most appropriately aligns with the free will of the individual learner and to provide them with the essential skills needed to succeed in a globalized world. It is imperative that we leverage the technologies available to us in order to better prepare our students for the global, interconnected society that they will be entering into.
I believe that the intention in teaching is ultimately to allow students to formulate their own meaning and purpose of their life and their world. With the terminal goal of obtaining a degree and moving on to other objectives, most students enter the classroom with the intention of completing the course with the necessary marks to propel them to the next stage or phase in their life. In my role as a teacher and educational facilitator, therefore, I will face the challenge of reconstructing this notion to one that encourages connection and deeper thought. I hope to do this by championing reflection on the course material in a broader sense of what it means to the student’s world. "Why is this information important? Why does it matter to me?" I hope to always make these answers clear to my students. In order to address the idea of inclusion and diversity in the modern age, I feel compelled to reference another quote from a man I admire. Mahatma Gandhi said, “you may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.” In such a time as this, when disdain for diversity and fear of the unknown person haunts our political and social systems, the importance of acceptance and inclusion becomes ever more clear. I believe that in order for a person to thrive in any environment, especially in education, they must feel supported, encouraged, and accepted. It is the instructor’s responsibility to foster this kind of environment in the classroom, with a keen understanding of the inherent fragility of the human.