“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” –Bill Nye the Science Guy
In a perfect world, I will be teaching Communication Studies courses at the college-level once I complete my PhD in 4.5 years. After 6 years of undergrad, I just finished my first semester of my MA to step closer to achieving that goal. One of the courses I took, Critical Pedagogy (taught by Dr. Karen Mitchell), asked us to be reflexive in how we share the classroom with our students and how we can best create a space for making visible issues of diversity, privilege, and oppression. My favorite assignment in this class was one where we were asked to write our Teaching Philosophy Statement. After struggling to get my ideas on paper, I realized that this document will never be finished. It will never be perfect because the ways I view the classroom will be shaped by the learning (my students’ and my own; in and out of the classroom) that takes place on a daily basis. Finally, I tried to capture my philosophy on teaching developed as of November 2013 through themes including “Be Passionate, Share the Classroom, and Never Stop Learning.”
Teachers that have most influenced me are contagiously passionate about the material they are teaching. In high school, I hated math. I tend to not have much patience for skills that do not come naturally to me, and statistics was no exception. However, Mrs. Miller loved it. She was good at it, and she enjoyed teaching it. While this didn’t make me like statistics, watching her explain something that she was passionate about gave me a reason to care. This influence resurfaced over and over again in college. The most notable instance of this was with Anna Schony. It would be so wrong of me to not mention how much she influenced my life path. After struggling to find purpose in my collegiate education, I enrolled in her Public Speaking and Interpersonal Communication courses during the same semester. She giggled as she went through the syllabi, and maintained a beautiful balance between being personal and professional during her classes and office hours. The content she taught was relevant and applicable, yet academic. This was the semester that helped me realize that I wanted to teach Communication Studies at the college level.
A few weeks ago, my classmates and I were asked to discuss our teaching philosophies. The passion that radiated from our uniquely constructed documents was unavoidably contagious. It was so special to learn how all 7 of us took a different approach to the assignment, but shared similar objectives. However, the conversation ended up taking a turn that I did not see coming: What happens when students and class activities don’t aid in achieving your course objectives? How do you save face and maintain a safe environment when a student disrespects you and/or their classmates? When do you give up on an activity that doesn’t seem to be working? Is it actually not working, or will it resonate with students after they’ve had time to sit with the material? Won’t it be scary to ask my students for feedback on what is going well and what could be improved in my classes? Will that undermine or add to my credibility as a professional? The answer to all of this seems to be “You’ll figure it out along the way.” There isn’t a handbook that outlines every single problem that could go wrong in your classroom and how to fix it. Through dialogue in my Critical Pedagogy course, I have become more comfortable with the idea of “trusting the process” (which is actually a miracle – there is no doubt that I am Type A).
Even though I have been a student for over 20 years, it’s true that I have no idea what I’m truly getting myself into. It’s also true that I will never stop being a student, and I will not be alone in my professional and academic endeavors. Academia has been, and I believe that it will continue to be, a dynamic place for collaboration and sharing ideas. Dialogue is imperative to broadening our understanding of the world around us, developing new ideas, and perfecting our methods. Most of all, it is important to engage in this dialogue with both our colleagues and our students. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up having a conversation with one of your students that meaningfully influences their life path.