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:
- The “Big Idea” Writing Syllabus
- The “Big Idea” History Syllabus
- Students, Professors, and the Joys of Office Hours
- A Different Kind of Final Exam: Celebrating Learning and Success
Selected articles published at Inside HigherEd that provide elaboration on various points:
Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda