“It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” - Albert Einstein
My purpose as a teacher is not to fill students' brains with knowledge they will need to pass a final exam, but to train students' minds with the skills and habits to continue learning and growing for the rest of their lives. As I know no better way to teach than by example, I consider every moment interacting with students to be a teaching moment.
I treat students with the respect and kindness with which I hope they will treat themselves and others. Each class begins with an inspirational thought designed to foster an environment of psychological safety. I learn and use students' names frequently because using people's names makes them feel valued and encourages them to engage and improve. I am particularly aware of the example I set with how I interact with students from minority demographics, deliberately seeking to ensure that I treat and engage all students with equal respect and encouragement. When scheduling office hours at the beginning of each semester, I use surveys to ensure each and every student has at least one hour during the week when they can come get help from myself or a TA. I show my students that I trust them, encouraging them to seek help from one another or accepting occasional late assignments. When they break my trust, I try to look into the root causes of the problem, and I help the student take steps back towards being a trustworthy member of our academic community. I treat my students as adult peers, believing that they will fulfill the expectations I place on them.
I exemplify in my teaching the importance of taking responsibility for one's own actions. I do this is by taking responsibility as the instructor for delivering engaging and highly educational lectures. I regularly use Think Aloud Pair Problem Solving (TAPPS) as an active learning tool to keep students alert. When teaching algorithms, I often have students act out roles representing various aspects of the algorithm to help them see clearly how the algorithms work. I regularly pause during lecture to allow students a 2-minute writing period to distill their learning. When asked a question to which I do not know the answer, I admit to my ignorance, and then I commit to and follow through with seeking the an answer. I encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning by requiring daily reading quizzes carefully designed to encourage students to come prepared to class on time and with basic understanding of the material to be discussed. I rely heavily on the socratic method, silently counting to 15 each time I ask or solicit questions to maximally encourage involvement. I have also been known to use candy as an incentive for class participation.
I teach students to build and draw strength from community. I create a Discord server for each of my classes with the explicit goal of encouraging students to seek help from one another. I communicate clear expectations and trust students to respect honest conduct. By encouraging students to ask and answer questions to each other publicly, it preemptively avoids me having to answer the same questions repeatedly; it frequently avails students of answers to their questions more quickly; and it frees me up to engage with more students in more meaningful ways. I seek in each of my classes to have students work on group projects in order to have them learn both the hard and soft skills needed for successful teamwork. In my grading rubrics I regularly emphasize and reward good written and oral communication skills, helping students to recognize the role that good communication will play in their lives and in their careers.
I teach my students to adapt successfully to change and to face difficulty head on. In the ever-increasing transition to online learning, I do not hide the challenges of teaching in hybrid or asynchronous environments from my students; rather I use these challenges as opportunities to show the strength of creativity and persistence. For example, I use Zoom to broadcast and record each lecture to allow students to participate in person or remotely, synchronously or asynchronously. I post lecture videos and slides in a timely manner. I use the full suite of features available with Zoom (including breakout rooms, polls, whiteboarding, and the chat feature) to engage students online in the same ways that I do in the in-person environment. I demonstrate a respect for how others choose to participate. Despite significant challenges with learning ISU's learning management system (Moodle) I have gone to lengths to ensure students are consistently aware of the status of their grades in my courses. I also have worked diligently to develop a method for allowing students to take exams online, one that is amenable to all parties involved. In all cases, I deliberately solicit and implement feedback from all interested parties as a manner of demonstrating effective interpersonal communication in the context of difficult situations.
I teach my students the value of continued learning in the ways that I seek to continue my own learning. I regularly share and demonstrate principles learned from training received at conferences such as the Master Teacher Program or the Teaching For Learning Conference (I first learned of many of the above mentioned principles from these conferences). Rather than claiming to be the ultimate authority in the classroom, I encourage students to speak out when they have answers I do not. When appropriate, I invite external guest lecturers as subject matter experts on topics and demonstrate my attentiveness and engagement with these educators. One of my favorite methods for demonstrating a teachable attitude is through case studies in which I typically play the role of moderator and let the students take the lead to develop meaningful learning and discussion. I regularly incorporate findings from my research into my teaching and conversely solicit involvement from students in my ongoing research projects.
Example is the great teacher. We cannot expect our beloved students to demonstrate the principles of successful learning to any greater extent than that to which we demonstrate those same principles in our roles as teachers. Whereas textbooks will forever pale in their comparative ability to train up a kind, respectful, responsible, community-oriented, adaptive, and teachable generation of students, the examples we set as teachers in how we demonstrate the training of ourselves and our minds is sure to have the more lasting impact.