Learning to Teach: A discussion of a syllabus

I found some useful ideas in Dr. Lauren Scharff’s Spring 2008 Psychology Teaching Seminar.

She recommends that right away you come up with your teaching philosophy.

And she says your personality should be reflected in your syllabus.

I found some useful ideas in Dr. Lauren Scharff’s Spring 2008 Psychology Teaching Seminar.

She recommends that right away you come up with your teaching philosophy.

A teaching philosophy is a personal statement of what you perceive teaching to be. It details the philosophical/research basis for all teaching-related activities. The first thing you will do this semester, is write a teaching philosophy. Please do NOT discuss this among yourselves. This is something that should be very personal and individualized.

What does this mean?

My personal philosophy of teaching presently begins with this:

Learning is one of the greatest joys in my life and I want to pass that love of learning on to my students. As their teacher, it is my responsibility to not only understand and explain the work they are required to do, but also to present it in such a way that they clearly see its relation to the rest of the class, their college coursework, and their lives outside of college.

That is the fundamental guide for my teaching. I love to learn and I want to infect others with my illness. 😉

One of my favorite online education bloggers, Robert Talbert (a math guy, but I don’t hold it against him), has written/grown his philosophy of education online.

Real learning of a subject does not begin until the student has taken enough interest in the subject to form an honest, significant question which renders the subject worthy of attention. Sometimes these questions are practical, sometimes purely aesthetic or asked out of mere curiosity. But learning does not begin unless, and until, those questions are formed in the minds of the student.

How does this translate into teaching? My classes ground themselves in reasonable, interesting questions for which we need the mathematics under study to answer. For example, on the first day of a calculus class, I give an example of two related quantities, such as the price of oil and the price of a gallon of gas. Then I ask: How can we make this relationship precise? How fast is the price of gas changing? By how much can I expect the price of gas to change over a given period? These are questions of interest to the everyday consumer, but they are also questions which motivate the main ideas of calculus (the function, derivative, and integral), and students see why we need these topics.

I think it is true that you need to know what you think teaching is before you can teach. Hopefully, even if it is only a beginning, you have thoughts that can be written down as your Teaching Philosophy.

Dr. Scharff also said:

A syllabus is a reflection of you, both as a person and as a teacher; your personality and style will be clearly demonstrated in this document.

If it is, then recently my personality has become cover-your-butt ugly and very legalistic. We have, in the past ten years or so, come to look at the syllabus as a learning contract. Because of that descriptor, syllabi have come to be stuffed with things that OUGHT to be able to go unsaid and we leave out the fascinating/charming because it doesn’t fit the legal document.

I found a Business Writing syllabus I wrote two decades ago. It has clip art that is relevant to what the class was doing. It was a lively piece of work that set the class up as an entrepeneur-growth house.

I am going back to a syllabus that more accurately reflects my “personality and style.” Do you think the school has antique parchment in hot pink for photocopies?

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