I feel that my role as an instructor strikes the delicate balance between someone who provides knowledge as a formal authority and someone who motivates students to seek knowledge outside of the classroom. By combining the two features, one of my primary objectives as an instructor is to promote fundamental learning of course content and real-world applications. More importantly, I also strive to help students develop the processes for additional learning in psychology and other areas of their lives. I know that my objective must go beyond relaying information specific to a course. However, it is only through the processes of critical analysis and application of course information that students gain more general skills and a sense of efficacy.
Based on my experience, I believe the instructor loses credibility when he or she is unprepared or does not know the course material several levels beyond what the students know. For this reason, my preparation for every class involves multiple steps of knowledge acquisition (I equate the process to peeling layers of an onion). I begin by understanding the material to a level that I feel comfortable explaining it to others, reading various texts, on-line sources, and empirical papers. The next step, sometimes the most difficult, involves how to make the material fun and interactive. I prepare every class keeping in mind that I need to change pace often and include activities and discussions that will interest students. In my classes, I work to incorporate real-world examples in the activities and discussions to demonstrate relevance to the lives of the students. In many of my courses, I integrate role plays, field settings, and en vivo demonstrations/activities.
Along with making the classes interesting and applicable to students’ experiences, the other characteristic that I feel is important to my teaching is to motivate students. To do this, I feel there are several important components. First, the way that I motivate students begins with motivating myself. Similar to the attitude of late night talk show hosts, I approach every class as if it will be the most interesting thing that students will experience. If I do not, students will likely not feel motivated to grasp the material. “Why should I pay attention,” they would feel, “if the teacher is not even interested in what he is teaching?” Second, I try to be very responsive to students, from my live interactions to my interactions via electronic mail. I feel that if I am quick and thorough in my responses, students will be motivated to respond in the same way in their efforts (as seen by class involvement, assignments, and projects). Third, I feel it is necessary to set the bar high. I do this by having short answer and essay exams, in-class assignments, and projects that have real-world applicability. Finally, to motivate my students, I share my experiences with them. As an example, at the beginning of every semester, I have had students write questions on note cards for me to answer. At the beginning of the next several classes, I have spent a few moments answering these questions. In the past, the questions have ranged from career goals and experiences to more personal information (e.g., what music I enjoy, what my typical weekend schedule entails). My attitude is that if I open up to them, they will be motivated to open themselves up to critical thinking and learning.
My philosophy of teaching reflects a belief in learning beyond the reaches of the classroom. Students should develop skills for additional learning and ways to employ their knowledge outside of the class. Through the acquisition of information, the ability to critically analyze new information, and the setting of high expectations for oneself, students will be better prepared when leaving my class. It is my genuine hope that as an educator who expects the most from my students, I will play a role in generating students who will pursue significant career and life goals.