Philosophy of Teaching

Here's mine; Please share yours

If you have been teaching for any length of time, you have been to a teaching conference. If you have been to a teaching conference, you have probably attended a session about how to write your “Philosophy of Teaching.” The exercise is a good one, I think. It encourages deep reflection about what matters to you in your teaching. What is core to your teaching person.

Writing it is alone a good exercise, but once written, sharing it with your students is also a good idea, I think. For two reasons (at least). First, because it serves as an introduction to their teacher (you) and your approach to the teaching craft, and second, because it serves as a statement of hopes and expectations for the working relationship that is about to be formed.

Mine is about 10 years old, and probably needs updating. I wrote it at a time when National Public Radio had a series called “This I Believe.” The series was a very powerful set of testimonials from people from all walks of life, who shared what was core to their being - things they believe deep within themselves. (See the Recommendation Letters below for a link). Anyway, I wrote my Teaching Philosophy in the style of those testimonials on NPR.

Here is mine, in full. I share it with my students at the beginning of every course I teach. I welcome your comments, reactions, and thoughts. Even better, please share your own Philosophy of Teaching in the comments below.

I believe that teaching and learning can be fun. But I also believe that it can be fun only if both parties work hard at it, day in, day out. That sounds contradictory but it is not. “When is it fun to work hard?” Of course, it is only through effort that learning happens. The feeling of mastering a subject can be tremendous fun for the student. Teaching students who are working hard is tremendous fun for me.

I believe that students deserve clear instructions and answers to their questions about what is expected of them. But the students who only want the “answers” are not engaged in true learning. That sounds contradictory but it is not. Students deserve to reasonably rely on the course syllabus, and the instructions for assignments and grading. But they also must understand that there are some things I am teaching them that do not have specific “answers.” I am asking them to stretch, try things, and learn iteratively - making the best possible decisions they are capable of making. This is sometimes a difficult process, but it too can be fun, particularly as my students gain confidence that they can do this on their own.

I believe students deserve the teacher’s respect, and vice-versa. But they both must earn that respect, every day. That sounds contradictory but it is not. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my students, but when they violate that respect (however rarely), we both know it, and the teaching relationship is bruised. I require the respect of my students, but I also know that I must earn that respect every day.

I believe that technology should be used in the classroom. But I do not think students should use their laptops to text their friends or check email or browse social media during class. That sounds contradictory but it is not. Technology is a part of our lives and using it wisely and carefully in the practice of law is something I need to help my students to learn. While I respect that some students are good at multi-tasking, I believe that multi-tasking often limits the teaching opportunities for both the student and the teacher in the classroom environment. I know when my students are partially engaged in something outside of class, and I have learned from experience that this can erode the respect between teacher and student and be distracting to classmates. Worse, it can be unprofessional and lead to mistakes.

I believe that classes should start on time and end on time. I believe that classes should be as interesting as possible. I believe that it is appropriate to use different teaching methods to address the different learning styles of my students.

I believe that Henry Adams was right when he said: “A teacher affects eternity. S/He never knows where her/his influence ends.” For this reason, and many others, teaching is a sacred trust. It is also fun.


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Letters of Recommendation

Mentioned above is the series on National Public Radio called “This I Believe.” It was derived from a five minute program started by the great journalist Edward R. Murrow from 1951-1955 on CBS. The idea was to take “everyday people” and have them write an essay about what motivates them. Since then, a number of versions of the series have appeared on radio stations around the world. From 2005 to 2009 it was on NPR, and I highly recommend you look through their archives for one or more that look interesting to you. To get started, try “Inviting the World to Dinner,” or “Life is Wonderfully Ridiculous.”


Q of the Week

The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from the great philosopher Bob Dylan:

People have a hard time accepting anything that overwhelms them.