“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” John Cotton Dana
I believe in the power of education to change the world. What education changes, of course, is not the world itself, but the thoughts and actions of men and women. As a teacher, I design learning experiences to encourage students to take risks in the classroom, to learn how they can use education to meet life goals, and to expand their ideas about what is possible.
Specifically, I teach communication skills, media studies, writing, and documentary arts. Sometimes the goal is for students to become more skilled writers or speakers. Sometimes the goal is for students to become more adept media producers and critics. Always I want students to investigate questions that lack simple answers. Always I want students to leave my classroom better equipped to pursue their goals than when they crossed the threshold on the first day of class.
WRITING IS CENTRAL IN MY PEDAGOGY
My first job when I graduated from Wellesley College was as newspaper reporter for The Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg. From there, I worked in corporate communications as a video producer, newsletter editor, and public relations specialist in charge of volunteer services, donor services, media relations, and publications.
Since 1996, I have taught courses with varying names and stated subjects – Media Criticism, Writing and Rhetoric Workshop II, Documentary: Beyond the Evening News, Media & Society, and The Recorded Human Voice: Using Interviews in Radio, Drama, and Text. Writing has been central in every course.
As a pedagogical tool, writing gives students an excellent way to focus and deepen their thinking. Even if the stated purpose in a class is something other than writing, I ask students to write frequently. Writing is “thought made visible” and can serve many functions in a classroom beyond writing for assessment. Through practice, a student’s writing skills are also likely to improve, particularly when I employ low-stakes writing assignments in addition to writing as a means for assessment.
TEACHING IS A RELATIONSHIP
My goal in every classroom is to foster a classroom community where the cultivation of knowledge becomes a shared experience. While it is essential that I am clear about course objectives, it is also essential that I remain open to various means for meeting those objectives. I listen to my students to shape the direction and goals of a course, allowing as much empowerment as is appropriate for the student population and institutional culture in which the course resides.
When students “own” the study of a subject, they pursue their study with a fervor that far surpasses my expectations. I don’t just believe in the ability of a human being to learn, I have observed the power of this human potential first hand. My work as a teacher is to inspire and motivate each student, as an individual, to take ownership of her learning experience, and then to get out of her way.
THAT DOOR IS LOCKED ON THE INSIDE
The saying – that door is locked on the inside – is one I have taken to heart as a reminder of what I cannot control in the classroom. I cannot force anyone to learn anything. I can create a positive classroom climate, plan learning experiences, give written and verbal feedback, coax students to learn, threaten them with poor grades – but I cannot make them learn. And I cannot make them love learning for its own sake. That power remains within each individual.
THE TRUE GOAL OF A TEACHER
While I value what happens face-to-face in a classroom, I believe that there is nothing sacred about schooling as it currently exists in the early 21st century. In fact, I believe that our schooling institutions must evolve to address the goals and educational needs of young adult and adult learners in an evolving, information-based, global economy.
As a teacher, I am willing to embrace digital technology and try new pedagogical methods in an attempt to create effective learning experiences. I also respect that my students have professional goals and that it is my job as their instructor to help them prepare them for the future.
And yet, I sometimes wonder if the most valuable thing I can offer students is a place for reflection – a space for them to be less practical, less plugged-in, and to explore what it means to be human in the early 21st century. This does not mean I believe that we should remain isolated from the “real world.” In the spring semester 2012 I taught a service-learning seminar called Radio and the Internet, in which students, as part of their required course work, volunteered twenty hours for a community-run, low-power FM station in order to better understand how radio is evolving. An important part of their experience, however, was their written and oral reflection on their experiences. Encouraging and structuring reflection is a key component of my pedagogy.
In an attempt to provide a practical education, our institutions frequently train students for careers that disappear with the click of a computer key. I believe a better approach is to teach students how to think critically, and how to learn, to encourage them to make a paradigm shift from passive student to active, lifelong learner. That, to me, is the true goal of a teacher – to guide students through learning experiences so that they advance to a point where they no longer need me as a guide.
“We now accept the fact that learning is a lifelong process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” Peter F. Drucker
Teaching Philosophy Statement (pdf 77 kb)