Authorities in Education characterize teaching as both a science and an art, and is driven by theoretical learning designs, inquiry, as well as reflection. Some believe that great teachers are born, others believe good teachers are made. I personally believe best teachers display a combination of both – innate teaching ability and hard work over many years of surmounting teaching challenges. My philosophy of teaching is informed by this and others – the material I teach, relevant scholarship, the lessons I have learned from my research, professional interactions, and personal teaching successes and failures. The concepts of active learning and collaboration are central to my philosophy of teaching.
I believe in sharing. My personal conviction that knowledge, unlike bread, does not diminish when shared, shape the nature, selection, and use of my pedagogic material. These materials ought to be open access, or if need be, are accessed and distributed to students within limits of copyright laws. Thus, I put in a lot of effort destabilizing information asymmetry, and knowledge inequities.
As a teacher, the most important lesson I have learned during the past half-decade of teaching has been the realization that teaching, irrespective of setting, field, or level, ought to involve the key stakeholder (students) not as mere recipients of knowledge, but as active participants in decision making. To illustrate, the power of allowing students to communicate their needs when I first taught a second-year undergraduate public health ethics course. My initial idea was to deploy predominantly didactic lectures, a few case studies and vignettes – keeping student presentations to my graduate-level courses. However, questions and comments by the students during the course introduction made it clear that my intended plan was not their preferred option. After a discussion with the class, we introduced student presentations. I was elated to learn toward the end of the semester that this worked well. Student presentations have since become core in my courses irrespective of level. Student presentations not only give students valuable experience in expressing themselves, it adds variety to the class and helps encourage peers to think critically about the material presented.
To challenge and be challenged by my students is another teaching expectation. I encourage and challenge my students to mentor-mentee sharing, peer-peer sharing, peer-peer mentoring, and role reversal exercises. I encourage brainstorming sessions, group work including group presentations. I also expect to be challenged by my students, something I communicate to the class in the early days of the course. I encourage my students to ask questions. My students know I do not have the answers to all of their questions. Whenever I am stuck, I seek their inputs, and after the session, I consult relevant resources. I challenge my students to understand that I am open to their thoughts, I am eager to receive their contributions and thrilled to learn with and through them.
Yet, another essential part of my teaching philosophy is that students need to learn not only to assimilate course material but also to communicate and share it effectively. I push my students toward making informed decisions about the merits of arguments that are presented assigned reading material. I provide students with questions to think about while consuming these reading materials so that their reading is motivated and directed. Such questions relate to the main claim in reading the material, the evidence used to support the claim, whether the evidence that is offered indeed supports the claim; why or how; and the implications of the findings.
Finally, I attempt to inspire growth in my students by giving them both disciplinary and interdisciplinary tools to take into other domains of their life. This includes some of Agathon’s “Twelve Virtues of a Good Teacher: Gravity (seriousness), Humility, Patience, Zeal, and Generosity”.