Teaching Philosophy

I have occasionally heard it said that the students are our customers, that what we teach and how we teach should be informed first and foremost by the needs and wants of the students in the classroom, because it is they that will convert the material and lessons taught there into knowledge and skills in the workplace. In this model, the student drives the practices and materials of each course, and has the prime voice in how the outcomes of the classes they take are to be evaluated.

I prefer a different paradigm, one in which students are a crop and professors are farmers, with potential employers as the consumer. Here, we see that the professor wishes to produce the best crop possible: the greatest yield, the highest quality, and the best product that can be produced under the circumstances of each class, each year.

Some years will be better than others. Sometimes the reasons for this are within the farmer's control: choice of fertilizer, strategies of land use, and maintenance of equipment all are within the farmer's power. Some factors are outside his control: seeds vary in quality right from the start of each growing season, the weather conditions are different each year, and natural disasters in their myriad forms are all such variables in the equation. All these combine to produce a different crop at each harvest. Occasionally, the farmer sees that the market for his wares has changed, and he changes his farming techniques and planting choices appropriately. Over time, the farmer becomes wiser, the soil more fertile, the seeds more select, and the techniques more refined, resulting in better and better yields.

This is how I see myself in the teaching environment, as one who seeks to produce the highest quality graduate possible each semester, serving the needs of potential employers by providing both the proper skills and attitudes to each student, and making the university a sought-after supplier of such graduates.

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I have found that the first class meeting of any course is the best place to set forth the expectations I have of the students and what the students can expect of me. To some degree, the things discussed in this first class are perfunctory and traditional, but in other ways I lay not only the groundwork for the course but for the tone and color of the class as well. I explain that no one — neither myself nor them — needs any surprises to arise from the course, and that we are going over the expectations so that they will know what they're getting into by staying in the class, and to allay potential complaints at the end of the semester should they suddenly become concerned about their grades. I explain that I am ultimately there to judge them — not as to their worth as individuals, but as to the strength of their mastery of the content of the course as partial fulfillment of their degree requirements. I explain to them that I and I alone own my mistakes in the classroom, and that they will not pay the price for them, and that I expect similar behavior from them.

But most importantly, I explain the difference between that which is personal and that which is important. The former is what I wish for as a person: a large degree of participation in discussion, a little something unusual from time to time, and generally having as much fun as the material will allow. The latter is what I require as a professional: to present material clearly, assess the performance of students, and ensure that the class runs as smoothly as possible. When possible, I'll have the personal — the wide-ranging discussions and the jokes and the discovery that makes teaching so much fun — but I will always do what is important: turn out the best possible graduates from each course I teach, regardless of other considerations, because this must — MUST — occur every time, without fail.