I believe that I have a moral obligation to promote inquiry, thinking, and understanding that, ultimately, strengthens the human capacity to achieve greater social and environmental justice. By teaching, I try to uphold that obligation. I also believe that a good measure of individual success is what one gives to others and to society at large. Teaching allows me to strive for success according to that measure. No less important, I teach because I love learning.
A major influence on my philosophy of teaching is how and by whom I was taught. Most influential were those teachers who helped me see that education has transformative power. They enabled me to understand that that power is limitless, provided it is shared freely. At the same time, they prepared me to understand how equality of educational opportunity is a common good that remains rare. They also supported my freedom to discover the world and my relationship to it. By doing so, they created circumstances that helped me imagine a better future society and how I might contribute to its making. My philosophy of higher education teaching is, thus, grounded in my belief that critical perspectives on education and schooling are needed to create positive change. It is also based on the belief that developing such perspectives requires teachers to earn their students’ trust.
My overall teaching goal in higher education is to help my students understand how education interrelates with social, cultural, and intellectual life. I expect my students to strengthen their intellectual autonomy and civic responsibility. I want them to develop habits of mind that contribute to lifelong learning, creativity, and human dignity. To achieve that goal, I believe that my students must develop a deep understanding of how education derives from and contributes to ideological and political economic circumstances. This analytical framework and general goals guide my determination of the specific understandings I expect students to develop in each of my courses.
Once I have identified the desired student understandings, I think it is imperative to determine what evidence would demonstrate those understandings. In my teaching, I continually gather evidence to assess what students understand well, what they understand poorly, and what they understand wrongly. Assessment is also the basis on which I try to differentiate instruction according to individual strengths, needs, and misconceptions. I also believe it is essential to establish clear criteria for what is acceptable evidence of understanding at different levels of sophistication. It is vital to ensure that students understand at the onset of instruction what those specific criteria are and the quality of evidence required to satisfy them. In that regard, I give my students grading rubrics and examples of work to illustrate my expectations. By making explicit what the insight and performance obligations are, students have the opportunity to regulate their own thinking as they develop their understandings. It is that kind of perpetual reflection on one’s own learning capacities, goals, and strategies that I think needs to be encouraged, particularly among those who intend to teach.
I use multiple forms of evidence to assess the degree to which my students develop various facets of understanding. Since I teach primarily for understanding—not recall—much of the evidence I gather represents students’ insight into and performance on authentic tasks over time. For example, I require students to discuss and write about their evolving understanding of how their own schooling experience interrelates with race, gender, ethnicity, class, culture, language, and other important social constructs. The resulting oral and written evidence gives me useful insight into my students’ understanding-in-progress. And by asking my students to carefully consider how they co-constructed that evidence through interaction with me and their peers, I try to help them develop greater intellectual autonomy and deeper understandings of learning.
I apply a constructivist approach to instruction. I think that learning is a continuous, creative process of constructing meaning through exploration, interaction, and reflection. And I believe that this process is best stimulated by new and varied experiences. Important, too, is critical examination of preferred understandings and normative beliefs and practices—others’ and one’s own. My instruction assumes a model of learning as engagement in communities of practice. Since participation in learning communities depends not only on individual knowledge and skill but also on understanding, I design my lessons and select my teaching strategies and materials with students’ capacity for participation in mind. Furthermore, I try to be sensitive to my students’ diverse styles of learning and understanding.
By extension, my teaching style invites students to actively participate in the construction of meaning. I encourage learning by cultivating a cooperative learning community among students and colleagues. I also provide opportunities for students to increase autonomous learning. Depending on the particular aims of a course or unit, I use direct instruction, coaching, and discussion in class to stimulate intellectual work. But, given that my course goals are primarily about developing deep understanding, my classes emphasize rational discussion stimulated by thought-provoking questions. Those in-class discussions engage readings, multimedia, out-of-class assignments, personal experiences, case studies, and student and guest presentations. My out-of-class assignments include individual and group activities and projects (e.g., research, learning journals, and civic engagement). To make my instruction authentic and to promote civic engagement, I am committed to community-based learning and university-community-school partnerships.
My teaching is an evolving logic of practice, a passionate pursuit, and a creative endeavor. And it is through teaching that I will continue to strive to meet my moral obligation, to “pay it forward.”