Revisiting My Teaching Philosophy Statement – Part 3

In this post I present the last part of my teaching philosophy statement. As I go back through and read this, I can see that things have already started to change. In a post-COVID world, I am thinking more and more about what kind of instructor I want to be and how to reach my students. These are some of the things that I plan to explore in future posts. For now, I leave you with part 3:

As a teacher, it is important to recognize that individual students bring different talents and styles of learning to the classroom. In order to help as many students as possible connect with the course material, I use a variety of teaching and assessment methods. In the classroom, I combine lecture with visual presentations, such as slideshows, diagrams, and videos. I also use music at different times in the course. For example, in my Introduction to Philosophy course, I chose a song for each topic we covered and played it at the beginning of the class where the topic was introduced. Discussion is an important part of my classroom. Sometimes we have instructor-centered discussions where the students ask me questions and I answer, but other times I sit down with the students and really make them talk to each other, instead of through me, which reinforces learning and encourages cooperation among the students. I often integrate material from other disciplines into lecture and discussion. Sometimes the connection is obvious, such as when I introduce neuroscience in my Fantasy Girls course. Other times the connection is not so obvious, such as when I used a Wallace Stevens poem to introduce a concept in my environmental ethics class. Supporting different learning styles is not restricted to teaching methods. I also use different assessments in my course. In addition to traditional exams and essays, I use in-class and group assignments to enable students to demonstrate mastery of the material in different ways. For example, I often use case studies and thought experiments as a context for students to explain a particular concept.

I encourage interaction and cooperation outside of the classroom through my course website. I set up discussion boards for students to post questions or continue discussions from class. This helps the students get comfortable with talking to each other, instead of through the instructor. When possible, I like to start a class with some comment that a student has made either through email or on the discussion board since the last class. I also hold virtual review sessions, where students post questions before an exam. I answer the questions on the course site so that everyone has access. In addition, I often post links to videos, blogs, and articles. I also encourage students to post links to related material to share with the rest of the class.

I strive to create a classroom environment that makes it safe for students to take intellectual risks, such as raising objections or offering counter-examples. Students need to know that although everything brought up in class is subject to critical inquiry, that it is never permissible to demean or ridicule others. In addition to the teaching methods I describe above, I spend time at the beginning of each semester talking to my students about academic integrity and being a member of an intellectual community to help achieve the goal of an intellectually safe classroom. In my experience, students sometimes have a hard time with the critical dimension of philosophical inquiry, especially when the critical standpoint is turned upon them. I have found that when I involve the students in the creation of the classroom environment reserved students participate more and other students will often monitor their own participation.

It is important to me, as a teacher, that students are able to integrate the knowledge and skills they acquire into their lives. Learning is not restricted to a certain set of years or a particular location. Although I want my students to come away having mastered the course material, I also want them to recognize philosophical problems when they encounter them outside the classroom. Furthermore, I want my students to be able to use the critical evaluation skills they learn in my class to examine not only the arguments that others present them with, but also their own background beliefs and assumptions. As such, I try to include elements of the philosophical in the everyday in each of my classes. For example, in my Fantasy Girls class, we examine philosophical themes of femininity in the context of nontraditional materials, like comic books and popular film. In my Ethics of Consent course, we use the reporting around the #Metoo movement to help us construct a meaningful inquiry into conceptions of consent. Finally, in my Bioethics course, I focus not only on the application of the principles of biomedical ethics in extraordinary cases, like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, but also in mundane interactions between doctors and patients. 

I am certain that as I continue to teach my own courses my views about teaching will continue to evolve. I look forward to continued opportunities to learn from my colleagues, as well as my students. Each course presents new challenges and new experiences.

Published by Tracie Mahaffey

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

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