As I prepare to re-enter the classroom this January as a Teaching Assistant, I thought it would be a good opportunity to review my statement of teaching philosophy, which I first wrote in 2010, update it, and remind myself who I seek to be as a teacher. I share it here.
Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.
I believe that learning is a partnership between the students and the teacher.
Learning is a cooperative experience between student and teacher as well as between students. All parties must engage with the process to make learning happen. I see my role in the classroom as that of a facilitator who guides students through the learning process rather than solely as an expert on the subject matter at hand. I encourage peer-to-peer learning by emphasizing participatory learning and planning activities which meet a diversity of learning styles. In my seminars I attempt to break the teacher-student power dynamic by creating a supportive atmosphere where all students can learn from each other. I believe it is important to meet students where they are and guide them to where they need to be while still allowing them to take ownership of their learning.
All tutorials were well put together with opportunity for discussion. Themes of lecture were reinforced in class. (Student, Fall 2008)
I thought that you didn’t ‘sugar coat’ your comments and feedback. You provided examples and were very thorough. This was extremely helpful. (Student, Winter 2009)
Since learning is a partnership, students share the responsibility for their learning. They have the right to not engage in seminar and to fail assignments. Students have the right to set their own priorities, and while I encourage students to engage in the learning process by using a wide variety of teaching techniques, I also recognize that there will be some who choose not to make my seminars a priority. I offer my students all the support I can, but I also respect their right to not participate and I recognize that I cannot force a student to learn.
I don’t think the main issue is the activities you provide or your seminar style, but rather the issue is that most people don’t participate/read for class. I’m not saying that I am not a part of the problem (I know I haven’t kept up), but that is probably the overlying issue. (Student, Winter 2010)
I believe that the classroom atmosphere is critical to learning and teaching.
Learning cannot take place if the students do not feel comfortable in the classroom. Every person in the classroom brings something of themselves to the class that can enhance the learning environment. By tapping into this resource through student-centered, cooperative and participatory teaching techniques, I aim to give all students the opportunity to fully participate in seminar learning.
One way in which I do this is by using small group discussions. Because the group size is less daunting, quiet students feel more comfortable voicing their views and more students are able to adopt leadership roles. Students learn from each other in the small group settings and teach their fellow students when they are brought back to the large group. While I circulate among the small groups to pose and answer questions as necessary, I encourage students to take an active role in guiding their discussions. Using such peer-to-peer learning techniques balances the classroom power dynamics between teacher, student and curriculum and encourages the students to take ownership in their learning.
I enjoy the overall flow of class, participation is nice as a whole class with the whiteboard activities but nice to talk in smaller groups as well. People have different comfort levels so this is nice.(Student, Winter 2010)
I endeavour to create a classroom atmosphere where everyone is treated with respect and students feel comfortable and free to participate fully. As a part of this, I give my students a clear description of what I expect of them and what they can expect of me. In addition to basic information such as my office hours and my email address, I outline what I look for in terms of participation so students know from the beginning what is expected of them. By providing students with university’s grading guidelines (as presented in the undergraduate calendar), I am letting them know from the start what they need to do to earn an A or B on their assignments. I attempt to be as fair as possible in my marking and I encourage students to come see me after they have reviewed their assignment if they have a question or concern about their mark.
I endeavor to set realistic expectations which encourage the students to expand their abilities without becoming overwhelmed. For example, I use in-seminar exercises to equip students to move beyond the simple five paragraph essay style taught in high school and to refine their theses and ideas into tighter arguments. When students come to see me individually about their papers, I will often indicate certain grammatical structures or styles of writing that they can use to further their papers. I refer students who are struggling with basic essay writing skills to campus workshops and drop-in hours. Such students are often embarrassed about the difficulty they are having so I do my best to mitigate feelings of shame and remind them that asking questions is a part of learning!
Good attitude, friendly environment. (Student, Winter 2010)
I found it very helpful when we read/review the readings as I sometimes have a hard time understanding some of the readings when I read them on my own. The group work is also helpful. (Student, Winter 2010)
I believe that the skills students learn are as important as the material they learn.
Since I TA for a humanities context credit course, I recognize that very few of my students will continue in the field of Classics. I therefore attempt to show my students the relevancy of the discipline while emphasizing the development of skills which will be useful regardless of their academic course. I place high value on my students’ development of critical thinking and reading skills. As I guide students through the literature of Greek mythology, I teach them how to interact with their texts to get a deeper understanding of the poems and plays we read. I show students how to mark up and annotate their texts, since this is a skill that is not always intuitive. I give students plenty of helpful feedback on their written work so they can improve their writing skills. I incorporate writing activities and essay-writing workshops into my seminars so students can get comfortable expressing their ideas in writing. The skills of reading, thinking and writing will help them whatever they choose to do.
I believe it is necessary to remember that students are whole people.
Students bring all kinds of different experiences and skills to class. Some students come with strong reading and writing skills, while others come terrified at the thought of writing anything. I let my students know that in a first-year course I expect them to only have first-year abilities. Depending on class dynamics, I will sometimes structure group work so that students with stronger writing abilities can help those with weaker abilities. This provides stronger students with a way to stay engaged when the material may be familiar to them.
Thought it was helpful that anything you were unsure of, you found out. (Student, Winter 2009)
My words and actions as a teacher can have a larger impact on students than I might expect. One of my most poignant reminders that I teach the whole person came from a mature student in the winter semester of 2010. I could tell from her seminar participation that she sincerely desired to do well in the course and was working hard. Part way through the semester she disappeared from class and a while later I received a very anxious email from her. Some rather tragic events had happened in her personal life and she was now distraught as to how she could finish the term. I immediately reassured her that not all was lost and, after consulting with the supervising professor, proposed several strategies we could use to help her finish on time. I also directed her to on-campus resources that could help her academically and personally during this difficult time. While ultimately she withdrew from the course, the email of thanks I received from her (quoted in part below) showed me that my instinctive response had a far more profound impact than I expected. While fortunately circumstances such as these do not arise every semester, it is a good reminder that every student I teach has a life beyond the 50 minutes a week I spend with them.
Alison, Thank you so much for your help with this, a large weight has been lifted off of my shoulders… I have been to Brock before but I have never honestly met someone so caring and helpful as you, and it has been a great relief to have someone like you helping me… Thank you again for being a kind and amazing person, this will come back to you threefold. Thank you, thank you. I cannot express how amazing you have made me feel. (Student, Winter 2010)
I believe that learning to teach is an ongoing process.
Teaching requires constant development and reflection. I incorporate reflective practices into my teaching so I can remember which approaches worked and which didn’t. At the start of each semester, I lay out my personal goals for how I want to improve as a teacher. At the end of each semester I write a summary of the things I did and how students responded to them. This gives me a resource to draw on in future classes. I also share particularly effective lessons with my supervising professor and with fellow TAs. In addition, I encourage feedback from my students over the course of the semester. I provide them with the opportunity to offer me written, anonymous evaluations during the semester so I know what needs to be change to improve my seminars. I also work closely with my fellow TAs and my professors to ensure that my marking is fair and the material I am teaching is relevant and accurate.
Professional development workshops are invaluable since they give me the opportunity to connect with TAs from other faculties and departments. Hearing the experiences of other TAs encourages me to reflect on my own teaching practices and look for ways to improve.
I am really enjoying this course. You make the 8am seminars painless so thank you! (Student, Winter 2010)