As part of a study I was conducting, I recently had the opportunity to ask a lot of people “What is your personal philosophy of teaching?” As I watched my interview subjects struggle to articulate their thoughts on teaching, I realized that I’d never articulated a coherent statement of my own philosophy of teaching. This is my attempt.
My philosophy of teaching is grounded in my philosophy of learning. I believe that learning is the purpose of life. I also believe that most learning comes from experience either direct or vicarious and I know that a lot of meaningful learning occurs with no teacher. I see the learner’s role as primary and the teacher’s role as secondary. This isn’t to say that I believe teachers are unimportant. Without a teacher, most learners struggle. Having a good teacher around makes learning easier, or at least more efficient.
As a teacher, I feel that it is my responsibility to help students learn from their own experiences and from the experiences of others. I try to help students learn things that would have been difficult to learn on their own. Often, this means designing situations that students would not have experienced of their own volition simply because they had no idea what they might learn from the situation or even that such a situation existed. As a teacher, I am part of their experience, their guide, and because I am part of their experience, they are part of my experience and learning is something we share together.
In practice, this means that I spend most of my time creating semi-controlled situations for my students to explore and very little time lecturing. I stay prepared to answer questions or provide demonstrations if needed and I try to predict where difficulties will occur so that I can provide resources that will help students overcome obstacles (seemingly) on their own.
Not all of my students appreciate my approach. I’ve had student comments that read, “I felt like I was learning on my own,” and “My group taught it to me,” but I can’t remember having anyone say, “I didn’t learn.”