Statement of Teaching Philosophy

Updated December 29, 2017

I will never apologize for supporting and defending students. I will also never apologize for challenging them and helping them think and work in ways and with greater intensity than they ever thought possible!

My exact teaching philosophy varies according to the institution, the department, the course, the students, and even the topic on a given day, for example. My teaching philosophies are, however, informed by physiological, psychological, and sociological theories of human learning and by the rich lessons history provides. Effective teaching only happens when professors allow for flexibility, adapt to the circumstances at hand, regularly learn themselves, and adopt trauma-informed teaching practices. 

The college classroom should be a queer space, a place where we subvert the normative, a place where we recognize how privilege and oppression and how intersectionality and positionality impact what happens. Students must also feel safe enough to learn, comfortable enough to make mistakes, and occasionally, uncomfortable enough to really examine important topics—all of this requires critical thinking.

I recognize that most students are capable of much more than they recognize or readily admit. Challenging students and pushing students out of their comfort zones, therefore, is absolutely essential if learning is going to occur. Specifically, courses must be thinking–talking, reading, and writing–intensive. Discussions allow students to safely grapple with new concepts, to have thought experiments, and to learn more about each other. Opportunities to read and analyze a variety of academic and non-academic texts are necessary to hear different voices and to internalize new information. Students read at least 50-100 pages per week. Regular reading helps students write strong summaries, syntheses, analyses, and/or responses. Students write short papers for every class and a few major papers, totaling 25-35 typed pages and 10-20 handwritten pages over the semester. 

Learning, especially learning that will be internalized, requires active learning. Students are actively learning when they make informed statements during discussions or group activities, but also when they listen to others and read carefully. As a professor, I help make an active learning environment by making course material relevant, by encouraging different people to speak, by bringing up dissimilar perspectives, by regularly having very different activities and discussions throughout the semester, and by providing learning that utilizes all of the senses and all of the “learning styles.” (Research spanning a few decades shows that specific learning styles do not exist. People learn some things–such as driving—best kinesthetically and other things—such as art history—visually, for example. However, the more ways in which students engage with subject matter, the better they will learn the material.) My goal is to offer every student opportunities to talk during almost every class. Active learning necessitates dedication from both students and professors.

Grading is probably more difficult than any other aspect of teaching. By definition, grading—even holistically—is subjective because students are assessed almost exclusively by their written submissions and because humans are imperfect, both the grader and student. I remind students that grades are measurements of specific objectives and do not determine students’ value. Determining the amount of feedback on an assessment requires balancing negative and positive feedback. Because I care about students truly learning, I offer low-stakes assessments throughout the semester. I also offer to look at submissions before they are due and offer feedback and even allow revisions after the work is graded. If students are willing to do the work, I am willing to grade a paper again and to provide more feedback. I have no interest in being a gatekeeper. Seeing how much students improve simply by writing all the time and their satisfaction when they earn a higher grade after revising a major essay and hearing how rewarding they find having to really work hard, reinforces the importance of this practice.

I fully understand that college students have busy lives. More and more students, regardless of their age, have the characteristics of the so-called “non-traditional student.” Students hold full-time jobs and take care of families and friends, while balancing full-time course loads. More and more, too, students report facing clinical depression. I am a professor who reaches out to students who have missed classes, who have skipped assignments, or who seem like they might need a friendly, “hello, what’s going on?” My “classroom” extends beyond the classroom walls. I welcome—and expect—students to communicate with me whether it is about class or an informal visit, even after the semester. I respond to emails quickly and welcome students to visit face-to-face during office hours.

Finally, my teaching philosophies are further built on the belief that everyone has potential and knowledge to offer. I am not afraid to answer a question with, “I don’t know, let’s find out.” There are many questions that the only correct answer is, “It depends.” Students will learn that the “how” and “why” questions are far more important than the “who,” “where,” and “when” questions. My best asset as a college professor is my ability to help share information in new, enjoyable, interdisciplinary ways and to think on my feet; my passion for the topics and for effective teaching, including leading effective high-level discussions; my desire to see students make progress; and my ability to relate to students and forge mentor-mentee relationships that exist well beyond the semester.

For past syllabi and course materials or for past evaluations, please visit this page.

Selected articles published on this website that provide elaboration on various points:

Selected articles published at Inside HigherEd that provide elaboration on various points:

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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6 replies

  1. This is really beautiful! However, I know a lot of faculty who would look at this and say by doing this, you will never have time during a semester to get any research done. So you almost have to use your studens as either guinea pigs for testing hypotheses or as collaborators who do the work for you, but you spend your time collating and re-writing what they do for you.

    I love your philosophy of not being a gatekeeper but more of a mentor where it matters more that the student show that they are learning. However, I do not think you get adequate credit for the role of talking in class about the subject. Yes, writing helps a lot but many students need that initial talking aspect before they feel confident enough about writing about it. It is hard to grade class participation, agreed. So you imply above that it is less important. But, as I have said before about my own subjects, if you learn to talk biology, you actually learn more biology. The same is true of every subject. By talking that subject you learn the vocabulary of that subject, and thus can use it in your writing. You also play with the basic concepts so that you linger over them longer than you do by just reading the textbook or assigned readings. You also pick up how your compatriots think about those concepts, broadening your own perspective. AND, some students really do learn the topic better by hearing others talk, than by reading material.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good evening!

      Thanks so much. I do tend to devote most of my energies to teaching during the semester, but I can offer “early reviews” and “rewrites” and consistently less than 10 percent will take advantage of that offer. I do enjoy using students to test out new ideas or mini-experiments! 🙂

      Thank you for your comments about speaking in class. I realize I failed to properly emphasize that in my statement above. (Will fix that!) We spend most of most classes talking about the various issues. This absolutely helps students get comfortable with the phraseology. I usually have participation count as 10% of the grade and end up giving most students at least a “B.”

      If you want to see an example of the kind of discussion questions I have students grapple with, check this out:

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, those are really good questions! You probably give them to the students well before they come to class. I suspected that you probably did take into account class participation, just did not emphasize it in this post.

    I had one extremely brilliant student who was very much a loner and who did not want to have to take part in a group. Although I very strongly empathized with him, I insisted that he take part in the group projects that had to meet outside of class (just one a semester is obligated [my keyboard hates the “t” key]. He could not. After discovering my own tragic traumatic childhood, I now strongly suspect he had suffered similarly and that was why group discussions were so difficult for him. He could study the material on his own and did not need the group discussion. But his lone approach to biology was not going to bode well in his future jobs, unfortunately. I do not know what I would do to accommodate his difficulty today, now that I understand his probable background.

    That is something I think all faculty will have to face in the future as we encourage more students from all socioeconomic levels. The incidence of trauma doesn’t tend to decrease in bad economic times, and I have yet to see indicators that people other than the well-off are doing better. Most economic indicators that economists use today clearly only reflect the economy of the wealthy. That huge boom in buying at Christmas might only reflect a huge amount of sales to the well-off. They never say who is buying a lot at Christmas, so we will be in the dark about what that >$800 million spent means. There is a huge underground economy that they are absolutely unaware of that tells us that people are doing worse than before. They are not addressing the global vs the local economy. They still think that benefits “trickle down.” Reporters still depend upon these economists for their own journalism, and so most completely avoid the mis-match.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I, too, am impressed by the questions, but I am also impressed with the whole philosophy. Rather than holding the student’s hand and guiding them step by step (in which case, the student will never learn to walk/write unattended), you PREPARE them to take the steps required, and you watch them do it ON THEIR OWN, glorying in their self-sufficiency. This aligns with my own teaching philosophy for most subjects along with teaching things/skills/material which students see as relevant, something they can “use.” Because I have seen you plan and seen you teach, I have seen you do this too.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you Rae, I can only guess how Dr. Pegoda teaches from his posts, and I greatly agree with you.

    Liked by 2 people

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