Statement of Teaching Philosophy
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” ~ Maya Angelou
This quote embodies the soul of teaching, which as a practice cannot be separated from learning. Indeed, the joy I get from teaching, and the passion I have for spending time in the classroom stems from an overwhelming excitement of continual learning, and most importantly experiencing the excitement from students when their curiosity is piqued. True learning necessarily involves excitement for pursuing your own curiosity, and stoking this feeling in students is a core objective of my teaching philosophy. The approaches taken to achieve this objective include viewing my role as that of a facilitator of student learning, incorporating diverse approaches towards engaging students with material and designing assessments, incorporating ongoing feedback from students and colleagues, and incorporating personal reflective practices.
During my time as a PhD student I have had diverse teaching experiences that include guiding students through the process of science in introductory biology labs as a teaching assistant, organizing and implementing a summer introductory biology course as the instructor of record, and co-developing and instructing a survey course in biology using a SCALE-UP active learning space. Each of these unique, yet intertwined avenues toward facilitating student learning and achievement have their own specific challenges and benefits. The common objective and challenge with each of these experiences has been to incorporate dynamic approaches to inspire diverse learners. Within any student group there exist a variety of backgrounds, whether it be race, sex, or class diversity, diversity of prior experiences and expectations, diversity in learning styles, or diversity of outlooks, among others. Designing courses that can embrace this diversity should be the overarching objective of any teacher, which necessarily requires taking active steps towards knowing and understanding your students early on and remaining flexible as new challenges present themselves.
To accomplish the fundamental objective of recognizing and embracing the qualities of diverse student groups, I like to spend the first day of class having students introduce themselves to each other and depending on the size of the class either introduce each other to the entirety of the class, or to one another in small groups. Students take notes on who they are introducing, and these ultimately get turned in so that I have a reference for which to begin learning about each student. Throughout a course I often encourage engagement and the sharing of ideas through think-pair-share activities. One of my favorite ways to implement these activities is to have students think about and write down a couple responses to a question, brainstorm with a partner, and then come up with either a whole group or partner level consensus response. This approach provides students the opportunity to not only think about their own ideas, but to articulate them both verbally and in writing, and therefore gain experience in multiple modes of thinking and learning. Taken together, this approach reaches directly into the process of science in that it provides students a framework to express their ideas and refine them as they gain more information, and ultimately moves students towards increasing confidence to engage with their own curiosities.
While the think-pair-share approach can be readily implemented with smaller class sizes, it can be more of a challenge in larger or traditional lecture courses. However, the online platforms common to many courses today are making this approach, and the assessment of student engagement much more feasible. For example, in a large survey course I recently co-developed and taught as part of a year-long Teaching Fellows program, we included a reflection for students that assessed their prior understanding of genetic modification methods, and what they learned from the day’s activity. While students were engaged with the activity during class, and instructors were engaging with table groups, it wasn’t totally clear how much they were learning. Going back through these reflections provided a clear window into their level of engagement and learning, which was pleasantly surprising.
Beyond the Teaching Fellows program, I had a unique opportunity to serve as the instructor of record for an 8-week summer introductory biology course. In this course I was able to gain further experience in designing and implementing activities and assessments for both lecture and discussion sections. Furthermore, I was able to gain experience collaborating with a graduate student teaching assistant who facilitated the discussion sections. Using the general framework from previous implementations of this course for guidance, I took the liberty to design my own assessments and activities that align with my teaching philosophy and the characteristics of the student group. For example, as this was a mid-size lecture course located in a lecture hall, I devised strategies to implement the think-pair-share activities described previously and included weekly low stakes assessments using the online platform Canvas. These were used to balance the higher stakes exams, keep students on track with material, and provide me as the instructor with real-time information about student understanding. These assessments included fundamental knowledge that I wanted the students to gain, along with feedback regarding what each student found challenging that week. Ultimately, being the instructor of record provided an amazing opportunity to build a course, implement that course by seeing what other people have done and modifying accordingly, and conclude the course by soliciting student feedback, and personal reflection.
Teaching for me is an exercise in learning, learning about how students retain information, engage with material and with each other, and learning through reflection on how my own practice facilitated or hindered the piquing of student curiosity. The most effective teaching practices necessarily follow the process of science, in that a truly engaged teacher is constantly questioning how specific approaches are translating into successful outcomes and refining accordingly. No two student groups will be the same. Through proper planning, research, communication with colleagues, and learning from prior experiences an effective teacher can refine course activities and assessments while keeping alignment with course and institution learning goals and objectives. With this framework I look forward to continuing my own learning alongside that of the students I have the privilege to teach.