Why Do Professors Teach the Way They Do? How do I Teach a College Course?
Exploring the World
Introduction and Information
I recently posted a Hub about an Essay Study Guide to be used with the film Three Kings in an upper level college history course. I show the film during the final week of a 15 week course entitled, “War and Society.” The course examines a number of wars which took place around the world during the twentieth century. I had previously posted two Hubs about Essay Study Guides and about how I use other films in my classes.
Note: There are no free rides in my courses. The pleasure and privilege of watching a good film in class comes with the effort and responsibility of producing a well written, analytical essay. Most of my students find this to be a fair exchange. If they don’t, they simply don’t take additional courses with me and gravitate toward the courses offered by the four other historians at Reinhardt University.
Wandering the Halls of Academia
Portfolios and Teaching Philosophies
Shortly after posting the Hub, I received a lengthy, thoughtful, and gratifying response from one of our newer Hubbers. (It is well worth reading…you might want to check it out.) He posed an excellent question.
Answering his question encouraged me to think once again about my “Teaching Philosophy.” What is a formal Teaching Philosophy and why do I have to have one? When professors are ready to apply for promotion, we have to complete a Portfolio, an assessment of all our work for the previous 4 to 7 years.
The Portfolio , is then reviewed by our School Dean, several committees, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, and the President of the university. The Promotion Portfolio usually fills three to six large three-ring binders and is divided into three sections.
I. Teaching and Advising Students (course syllabi and materials, copies of exams and research papers, information on developing new courses, student evaluations of your advising).
II. Service to University and Community (committees, projects, ad hoc study groups, presentation-speeches-activities outside of the classroom - many of them even off-campus).
III. Professional Development and Publications (attendance at teaching workshops, disciplinary conferences, research projects, papers presented at state, regional, and national conferences, articles published in academic journals, a book in your field).
Start to finish the review process can take six to nine months. At the end, the President can veto the promotion even if everyone else approved it. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen. Some people think Tenure is a gift too easily bestowed on undeserving faculty.
So why am I telling you all this? Because In the first section of the Portfolio a professor places a copy of their personal Teaching Philosophy explaining why they teach the way they do; what underlying principles and objectives they rely upon to guide and shape their teaching. The question below gave me the opportunity to rethink, in a very concrete way, what it is I believe about teaching and learning and to articulate why I teach the way I do.
Visiting Other Lands and Cultures
The Question and the Aswer
"Just out of curiosity's sake, what is it you hope to teach your students by having them view films concerning the topic of study?"
That is a very good question. My answer, however, applies to everything the students and I study in a course throughout the semester, not just the films I ask them to watch and write about. It applies to the books, articles, lectures, group discussions, student presentations, outside lectures, art exhibits, and FILMS I use in constructing the course. I try to teach using a variety of approaches, techniques, and materials.
So, in everything I do in the classroom, what do I hope to "teach my students?" My four primary objectives are to improve their ability to read carefully, to think critically and analytically, to write logically and persuasively, and to speak clearly and confidently.
Eighteen years ago when I first entered the classroom I thought my job was to teach a specific subject, history. But I learned that I could actually teach all sorts of subject matter and that the subject is the vehicle or process through which I can accomplish those four goals.
I have students who are business majors and they don’t like history and will never take another history course. So, yes, I would like them to "know" the causes of WW I. But more than that, I want them to be better readers, thinkers, writers, and speakers for the rest of their lives.
Searching the Heavens - the Astrolabe
Secondary Goals and Onjectives
I have secondary objectives for students of course: expand geographic, political, cultural, and intellectual understanding; enrich their vocabulary; broaden interests; develop tolerance and understanding of other cultures and religions, encourage interest in and commitment to th larger surrounding society, developing disciplinary and general competence which leads to self-confidence and self-actualization.
I don't write these goals into my syllabus. We seldom discuss them in class, unless the students bring these issues up. But fortunately all these things are accomplished incidentally as I focus on my four main objectives - reading, thinking, writing, and speaking.
As students become more and more competent in these areas and in the course subject matter, the other secondary goals will likely be accomplished as well. Do I think all teacher's think this way? No. Do I think the world would be a better place if all teachers did? Yes, I do.
Some people might see this as the height of arrogance on my part? I don't think so, because I believe we all teach and mentor (for good or for bad) the people around us all the time, whether we call it that or not (and they teach and mentor us—it’s called relationship, it’s called community).
I had teachers who knew their subjects well and I learned from them. But I also had transformative teachers who taught me more than the subject, who in some small way changed how I thought and improved the trajectory of my life. I am grateful to them and I model my teaching after theirs.
Teachers and Mentors - Plato and Aristotle
Universities and Learning
You Might Be Interested in These Articles
- The World's Most Popular Trash
A segment of our population will always smoke. This group is a specific demographic with unique characteristics that are hard to identify without judgement. Every responsible organization on the planet has reported the dangers of smoking but...
- My War - Chapter Twenty-one
20 January 1991 I was sitting outside the snack bar watching the children run around playing. Some of the wives and I were talking about little more than the weather, which was a testament to military wives everywhere considering we were sitting...
- My War - Twenty-Two
I pulled Jordan’s gas mask off him and led him back to his bed. He was more than willing to go. Walking past my balcony door, I saw people emptying out of the day care center. Bethany and Jesse were among them. I called to them from the balcony,...
- So How Do We Get Out of This Mess Anyway?
We hear a lot about how much in debt we are as a country. Then we hear about deficits and surpluses, although, we haven’t heard much about the latter for several years now. They are actually two different issues. We have a surplus if we take in...
More by this Author
In their oral history testimonies, letters, questionnaires, interviews, and journals American soldiers explain why they did not accept German protestations of ignorance and innocence. GIs from the 42nd, 45th, 71st,...
Pondering what the German people knew at the time about the Nazi goals and activities can lead to a number of questions which are relevant for us today.
Americans often assume that most German civilians knew next to nothing about Hitlers Final Solution and were unaware that the SS controlled and administered the concentration camp system. While the death camps were...