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Philosophy of Teaching
Robert M. Anthony
Graduate Teaching Associate Department of Sociology
Winner of the 2005 Graduate Associate Teaching Award

As I reflect upon my academic career, it is clear that my pedagogical stance has been greatly influenced by my mentors. In the classroom my mentors helped me develop my ability to assess, create, and articulate ideas. But they did more than just aid in my intellectual development. Each one set an excellent example for me to follow as a teacher. What made my mentors exemplary teachers was their devotion to their students and to their profession. Specifically, my mentors were exemplary teachers because; they developed strong curriculums with the knowledge to support it, they set high academic standards for students and for themselves, they respected intellectual diversity inside and outside the classroom, and they built trust among their students. In sum, each one led by example. It is with in mind that I turn to my own teaching philosophy.

One of the most insightful lessons I learned from my mentors was that being able to critically think is an invaluable skill for anyone. It is a tool which can be used to succeed in a broad spectrum of occupations. I believe all undergraduate students should leave this university armed with the ability to critically think. Thus, a cornerstone of my teaching philosophy and personal teaching goals is to help students develop their critical thinking skills.

The most important step a teacher can take to help students develop critical thinking skill is to create a positive learning environment by respecting and promoting intellectual diversity. This not only sets an example for students to follow, but it also allows students to share their ideas openly with other students and the teacher. Respecting and promoting intellectual diversity requires a deeper understanding of how diversity manifests inside and outside of the classroom. On the one hand, intellectual diversity manifests itself in the various worldviews that students possess. On the other hand, intellectual diversity manifests itself in the various ways students learn. To effectively promote and develop students’ critical thinking skills, both forms of intellectual diversity must be taken into consideration.

Because students bring a diverse set of worldviews to the classroom, I believe that it is the teacher’s responsibility to take neutral stances on controversial material, political issues, and general social issues as well. Teachers should not present themselves to students as a partisan supporter of a particular side, because choosing sides can have negative and unintentional consequences on a student’s learning experience. In my classes, I play the role of moderator and mentor instead of activist. I believe remaining neutral and supportive of student’s ideas motivates students to participate in class. Taking a neutral stance also acts to challenge students’ intellectual abilities. It requires them to defend their positions using critical thinking regardless of what side they take, and it also introduces students to points of view that they may not have considered themselves. Ultimately, it presents students with a positive learning environment where they must use logic and reason to develop positions and counter positions (i.e. critical thinking).

The second way of respecting and promoting intellectual diversity is by presenting information in a variety of formats, and to measure aptitude in a variety of contexts. Because students possess different learning strategies/abilities, I believe teachers should make an extra effort to present class materials in a variety of formats. In my courses, I use lectures, articles, visual learning aids, organized notes, charts, and diagrams to present course materials (see the attached artifacts for explicit examples). When measuring students’ aptitude, I use a variety of formats as well. For each of my courses I assess student abilities using; creative and formal writing assignments, tests that include multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and essays, and finally, participation in class discussions. Each method caters to different sets of intellectual strengths, while challenging different sets of intellectual weaknesses.

Aside from my efforts to respect intellectual diversity and foster independent critical thinking skills, I also believe that a teacher should set specific and clear standards from the very first day of the class. Once a standard is set, it should be adhered to throughout the remainder of the quarter. I accomplish the enforcement of fair but strict standards in two ways: The first is with a very detailed and clearly stated syllabus. The second is taking the time to explain to students why specific standards are in place. To give an example, I require students to attend class regularly to earn participation points (miss no more than 4 classes). I explain to them that part of the learning experience involves interaction with other students and with the teacher. By placing my standards in writing and explaining the reasons behind them, uniformity and legitimacy are added to the class from day one. In short, I believe setting high standards for students is an important way to get students to rise to their potential.

Along with setting standards for students, I believe fostering superior learning requires exacting standards from the teacher as well. One important standard that I have set myself is giving students a clear indication on how they will be graded. A good example of how I set such standards is found in the writing assignments. Each writing assignment is accompanied with a handout which clearly explains what students are expected to accomplish. Also included, is an outline of what students need to include in their work (see attached document for an explicit example of this). Overall, setting clear standards helps limit grading bias and instances where students may try to take advantage of a teacher’s generosity.

The final area of my teaching philosophy I would like to discuss is my views towards self improvement. I firmly believe that any good teacher remains a good student throughout life. As I a teacher, I constantly evaluate my performances in the classroom every time I teach. This includes; assessing how well I presented the material, what students’ reactions to the material were, and coming up with ideas on how to improve upon my presentations to maintain student interest. I believe that taking the time to rewrite lectures, add new material, and revise lesson plans is something that all teachers must do on a regular basis. However, self-reflection has its limits. Other important ways I continue to improve my skills as a teacher include; talking with experienced professors and other instructors for advice, keeping up on current social issues, refreshing my knowledge of the subject being taught, and perhaps the most important tool is using student evaluations to inform me of my weaknesses.

In conclusion, I believe teachers have a duty to their profession, to their students, and to themselves. Fulfilling this duty requires that a teacher never stop learning, continues to evaluate his or her performance among colleagues and students, and leads by example inside and outside of the classroom. My relationships with my mentors, the teaching experiences I have gained, and the support I have found in my colleagues have all contributed to my pedagogical stance and goals. In sum, my philosophy is one which strives to give all students an equal opportunity to learn by promoting intellectual diversity in the various ways it manifests itself in academia. It is through my respect for intellectual diversity that I conduct myself in a professional manner to create a positive learning environment where students can develop their critical thinking skills. But the key to my philosophy rests on the idea that I must set high standards for students and for myself. I must lead by example for my students as my mentors did for me.

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