Written in 2016 as part of my Teaching Portfolio
I think the best way to approach a class isn’t by coming in to teach facts, but to share a passion. Passion for a topic is easily relayed to the students so that class is no longer just a class, but a time to explore. Because students shouldn’t be just asked to answer predetermined questions, but develop their interest by asking questions themselves. And I want students to leave my class with the ability to continue their exploration on their own. Therefore, during class, I want to students to gain the ability to problem solve and the confidence in themselves to be engaged in class and outside of class. I believe students should graduate with an education they can use, not just a piece of paper.
One of the biggest problems I see students struggle with is the ability to problem solve and think at higher levels of critical thinking. In the past they have been asked to memorize or understand concepts, but does that really stick with them long term? I believe the gap between temporarily remembering a fact for a test, and storing something long-term happens when students are able to use what they have learned. They may not keep every tiny detail and number, but they will be able to understand the process and why something happens. To do this I like to work with students using open-ended application questions. We go over the basic concepts again, making sure they understand the steps in the process. Then lead into a question, testing their knowledge on the subject. In Physiology, a lot of things in the body happen in a certain manner for a reason and understanding that, and being able to apply it to something like a disease and its symptoms shows true comprehension. That way they not only know the steps in the process but can figure out, via symptoms, what went wrong and where.
In order for students to truly open up in class and dig into the subject, I want them to gain the confidence that they are capable of understanding the material. To do that I push students to be comfortable with asking potentially ‘stupid’ questions and to be comfortable with potentially saying the wrong answer. Depending on the class size I sometimes prepare the students by saying I’ll be going down the line, asking each person a question as we go, in order that they chose to sit. I generally use easier concept questions for this manner, and emphasize that they came to practice what they are learning, and being wrong is ok. Also making sure that when a student is struggling, I break the question down to simpler steps. That way if they can answer the simple parts, it can build up their self-confidence and hopefully work their way up and attempt the original question. And if they have questions along the way, I don’t present it as something they should know, even if it is a fact covered in class several times. I’ve felt firsthand the effect of a teacher treating someone as incompetent or unintelligent. It is not effective because not remembering one fact, doesn’t gauge someone’s intelligence. For larger classes. I also like to use group work. Speaking out with possible answers to one or two people is much easier than a whole group. And when the group is called upon, they have practiced their answer and are much more confident in their response.
To help with both of these things, I try to be as transparent as I can be with my students. I let them know that just because I’m the teacher now, doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle before. With the course review sessions, I teach now, I’ve personally struggled with the concepts before, and I let them know that. For example, in the sessions, I’ll mention mnemonics that I used when I was struggling with this topic. Or explain that I had been totally wrong on my learning style for years, and help them discover how they best learn. Sometimes I perceive teachers as putting on the front that they are the expert. However, we are learning just as our students are, especially in a field constantly changing like science does. We do not know everything and I want my students to know if I don’t know something, I will find it out, and even the things I do know, at one point I did not. So if they have several questions when trying to figure out how to apply a concept to a problem, or if they might answer that question wrong, it’s alright.
In the end, I hope they graduate with an understanding of how to use what they know and find a passion for something. A student can pass their class by simply remembering facts and eventually get a degree. But a true education comes from getting in depth into their classes and having that chance to explore. In every class, I teach I plan to offer a chance to do individual work, where students can investigate a smaller topic that interests them. Perhaps they don’t find everything in a broad topic like Physiology interesting, but something sparks that interest, and I want them to find it.
I want to be a hands-on teacher. My students are working together to learn and I’m working with them as a leader. A leader that stands to the side and allows them to explore, to step in when need be. A leader that leads with enthusiasm and energy. A leader that starts discussions, not lectures, where students want to ask questions, without fear of it being a stupid question. Or to answer questions without fear of being wrong by setting and leading d a comfortable engaging classroom.