Revisiting My Teaching Philosophy Statement – Part 1

I had a really hard time deciding what to write as my very first blog post. What I settled on is revisiting my teaching philosophy statement.

That might sound a little weird. I don’t know about you, but I have always found writing teaching statements to be a difficult task. I have no problem talking about teaching or the things I value about teaching, but it is not always easy to put these thoughts into writing.

I wrote my first teaching statement when I started graduate school in 2003. It has been through many iterations. I wrote this version in February 2019 as a part of my promotion binder materials. When I go back and read old versions of my teaching statement, I am sometimes embarrassed, but mostly I recognize how much I have grown as an instructor over the last 17 years.

In a post-COVID world, there is something that feels really good about going back and revisiting this teaching statement. Since we moved to remote teaching in March, I have spent a lot of time thinking about teaching–how to teach, why I teach, what I teach. Starting with this statement gives me a baseline as I move forward. I hope that as you read this, the statement will give you an idea of who I am and what I value as an instructor. If you want to talk to me about teaching, please reach out to me via email or on social media. Alright, here we go. Part 1:

Teaching, in my experience, requires reflection and openness to change. My views about teaching have been shaped by my experiences both as a learner and an instructor. Although my teaching methods continue to evolve with new classroom experiences and the introduction of new technology, my goals remain constant. My main teaching goals are:

  • to provide students with the tools necessary to meaningfully engage with the course material and questions;
  • to encourage students to take intellectual risks; and
  • to enable students to integrate their newly-acquired knowledge and skills into a plan for lifelong learning.

The purpose of a liberal arts education is to shape students into intellectually curious people and lifelong learners who can deal with complexity, diversity, and change. As a part of the liberal arts education, philosophy helps students shift their world views from a naïve binary—where the world is black and white, answers are true or false, and definitions to difficult concepts are found in the pages of a dictionary—and provides them with tools to engage with the world in meaningful ways and evaluate problems at a deeper level. 

I want my students to come away from my classes with a feeling that philosophy is relevant to their lives. Recent research and scholarship on teaching and learning has reinforced my commitment to the development of what Ken Bain calls a natural, critical learning environment (2004). A natural, critical learning environment is based on the idea that people are most likely to take a deep approach to learning and, thereby, achieve more significant results when they are trying to answer questions that they, as learners, find important, intriguing, and even beautiful. The classroom environment is often inauthentic in the sense that learners have no control over the questions or the direction of the course. Therefore, I aim to structure my courses around questions that I believe students will find relevant, motivating, and challenging.

References

Bain, K. (2004). What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press.

Published by Tracie Mahaffey

Senior Teaching Faculty and Director of Undergraduate Studies Department of Philosophy Florida State University

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