Philosophical statement of teaching

 

I am a philosopher because I am passionate about the understanding of ideas. I believe it is very important to think clearly and critically about all facets of our lives; to be able to articulate arguments, positions and otherwise in a cogent way; and to challenge oneself of our own implicit biases, hidden assumptions and preconceived ideas. As a teacher, my goal then is to encourage students to do the same. My main goal for student learning is to help them along the path to becoming independent thinkers. I would like to help them develop skills to be able to engage in critical analysis and reflection; to be able to evaluate arguments analytically, but also within an ethical framework. I would like students to be able to think beyond concepts and issues which presently exist in the complex social, political and economic worlds we find ourselves in.

My conception of teaching is closely linked to my conception of learning, since I believe that teaching and learning is a two-way process. Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator and philosopher said, “There is no teaching without learning.” [2] Teachers learn from their students just as much as students learn from their teachers. The process is reciprocal. Being able to engender dialogue, critical discussion and analysis is crucial for me as a teacher. Freire talks about fundamental knowledges that teachers should have. These are that “teaching requires recognition that education is ideological”; “teaching always involves ethics”; “teaching requires a capacity to be critical”; “teaching requires the recognition of our conditions”; “teaching requires humility”; and “teaching requires critical reflection,” among others.” [3] In the classroom, my aim is to create and maintain an environment where students feel at ease to question and challenge material we are covering, comments from other students and my own input as well. I believe that students only feel at ease, and comfortable enough to speak out in class when they have read the subject material; understood it; but also feel that their contribution is encouraged and valued. As a feminist philosopher I am sensitive to the fact that female students (as well as students from marginalized groups), particularly those of color may not feel so comfortable in speaking out in class on certain topics. My goal is to create such an environment where we can broach difficult topics such as race, inequalities and others. Being able to listen effectively and being open to dialogue will only enhance the environment.

In my classroom I use a number of different methods from individual reflection, small group work and discussion, and class group discussion. I intersperse this with some lecture material and also use multi-media in the form of short videos, podcasts to reinforce some ideas and concepts, introduce others, and provoke discussion and analysis. As a philosopher, my particular research areas are social and political thought, applied ethics and feminist philosophy. These are perfect areas for linking real-world situations as examples to reinforce learning. In the summer of 2013 during my ethics in health care class, we discussed the hunger strike by the detainees at Guantanamo Bay which was happening at that time. We were able to discuss a number of bioethical principles, such as autonomy and respect but also consider the social and political implications of this. We did this through the analysis of newspaper articles, thought experiments and discussion.

I also use a series of assessment methods. Philosophy as a discipline is structured on writing, so of course there is a heavy writing component. However, I do offer different writing formats such as short reflection papers, longer essays and case studies. I also assess student’s participation in discussions whether small group or class ones. Although I think a structured syllabus is important, I think it is equally important to be flexible and allow for some modification to the syllabus during the course. I strive for encouraging a creative space, to allow and encourage students to express their thoughts and ideas in an unconstrained environment.

To be able to be an effective teacher one must be a good listener, and be open and tolerant to diverse stances and opinions. However, this does not mean being fully accepting and condoning certain cultural traditions and rituals, which may in fact be harmful to persons. As a teacher I hold a certain amount of responsibility about what I teach and how I teach, which demands certain coherence between what I teach and my actions. It will also require ongoing reflection on my practice to consider methods that worked well, but also assess ones that didn’t work so well. Teaching is a dynamic process that requires constant thought and action to ensure its effectiveness.

 

[1]   This philosophical statement of teaching is a work in progress.

[2]   Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998, p.30.

[3] Ibid, p.xiii.

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