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My Teaching Philosophy

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My Teaching Philosophy

Why do I teach?

Teaching has always been a calling. It is something I am drawn to do. I was impressed by the teachers I have had throughout my life. I remember them and can place myself in their classrooms. My memories of them are my “ah ha” moments when I realized that they were doing something important.

Mrs. Tompkins, calm and in control of the room – of kindergarteners. Mrs. Berlinghoff, kind and patient and encouraging as I perfected my reading in third grade. Mrs. Julius with her science demonstrations that amazed us sixth graders. Mrs. Cannon, intense and passionate and slightly unconventional, playing the smallest violin in the world as we complained about our reading in high school U.S. History. Jerry Chamberlain, who shuttled back and forth from his “real”  job in Philadelphia as a TV director to teach us New Jersey undergraduates the techniques, and the profession, of television. Professor Peck, voicelessly setting an example about paying it forward before there was a book or a movie. Vinnie Verdi of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY, USA, more of a graduate school mentor than a teacher, leading by just doing what has to get done. And Bob Williams, my graduate school chair and professor (who I wish I could be as calm and as organized as) encouraging, not scolding, to bring out my very best work.

And there are two others. Undergraduate Professor McCarthy and an Actor-In Residence instructor both in complete contrast to the others, apparently did not want to be in the room with students. They gave me my reason to teach. So that fewer students would have to experience their kind of apathy and arrogance.

Those people are why I teach. They showed me how to teach. That it had little to do with crayons or formulas or historical dates or cut to camera two. Teaching was all about who you are teaching and how to break through to them and enable them to learn. The people I have met who love to teach are all about seeing a student’s “ah ha” moment, watching that little cartoon lightbulb go on over their head, when they get it, and have learned, and been inspired.

And one other thing. I teach because I feel it is my duty to teach. That’s why I taught for 23 years as an adjunct. That’s why I am teaching full-time now, later in life than most tenure track faculty. This is what I think all practitioners should do – share what they have learned with the people coming behind them. To paraphrase: “Those that can, do teach.”

What do I teach?

My inspiring examples showed me what to teach and it has little to do with subject. It all comes down to the person sitting across from you or in row four or lab desk seven. For each person, student or colleague or stranger, my job is to instill confidence in them that they know and understand the subject. I think that is what learning is. It’s not just about collecting knowledge but it’s knowing that you know it and how to apply it. In my case that is something about the field of mediated communication. Or bicycles. Or hand tools.

So, I teach about video production and social media and history and design and writing. But I actually teach patience and confidence and sharing. I want to teach students how to learn. I would prefer a student come out of my class with the interest and confidence and desire to learn and not just a rote command of the subject.

How do I teach?

My field is communications and I love to communicate.

I am passionate about my discipline. It’s dynamic, it’s powerful, it’s cool. It often involves blinking lights and bright shiny objects (BSOs). I have been mass communications as it’s changed my entire career. I love the chase. My students see that in me. I get excited. If there is something new I want them to know and understand it. I want to know what they think of it. I want them to think about it.

I am curious. I present the newest ideas and objects I find and integrate them into my classes. I have the ability to make connections between things. But sometimes I fail, making a connection that neither the students nor I understand. That’s OK with me because we both learned something and it made us think about it.

I use a lot of media in my classes. Mass Communication, maybe more than any other discipline, is tied to the computer and the Internet. I still stand back amazed with what I can find immediately with a Google Search; my students less so. It’s those gee whiz moments, when we learn something together, that makes learning fun, because I’m not teaching at that point, I’m learning along with them.

I teach by example. Sometimes very well and sometimes not. I am passionate and curious and amazed (working on amazing) and, alas, human. So I don’t always succeed or come through for them. I adopted a motto for myself that was first coined in the 13th century. But for you furniture lovers it is best known as the mark of Gustav Stickley, a leading maker in the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century. Als Ik Kan. Loosely translated it means “The Best I Can.” Students need to understand that I, and by example they, can strive for perfection but we will always do the best that we can at that time. Learning about how to fail and learning about what it takes to succeed are good examples to present.

I may be the final arbiter in the classroom, I may have more experience in my discipline than my students do, I may or may not be the smartest or most talented person in the room, but at the end of the day I’m a person who happens  to know a lot and loves to teach and I have bad days and good days just like they do. I am a person and an adult and I expect they are the same.

My favorite method of teaching is what I call “throwing them in the deep end.” I lull my students into learning just enough so they can doggy paddle through the subject and then give them what appears to be a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG.) And they complain and negotiate about it. And are nearly always successful.

How do I measure my effectiveness?

The most frequent form of evaluation I do in my classes is at the moment observation. I constantly “read” the classroom to get a feel for how content is getting across. I’m making eye contact with every student while I lecture or we discuss a topic. With experience I’ve gotten to know, through non-verbal body cues, whether I’m getting through to someone. When eyes glaze over I know I’ve missed the mark. Then I stop, back up a bit, and try a different tack. When I start getting smiles, nods and looks of recognition then I’m in the sweet spot.

I talk to students, both the students who are engaged and students that seem to be struggling, to get an idea of how it’s going. And I ask for advice: “What will work better?” or  “Did you understand that concept?”

Assignments and the grades they earn are a good indicator of how it’s going. Grades are subjective to an individual student but looking at trends across one assignment or the semester of assignments can show me where I need to tweak my presentation and approach.

The type of assignments I offer give indications about whether I am getting across to students. I do not give quizzes or tests but rather use projects that allow students to demonstrate critical thinking and their theoretical and practical application of the material.

In their current form I use student evaluations to measure where I am in comparison to other instructors. The data that is collected seems too subjective and indicates a mood but not effectiveness. I have on occasion conducted my own survey that uses open-ended questions and not a scale. A percentage of these are helpful and some just aren’t. But it gives me a better idea of how I am doing than a standard survey given to all students.


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