Throughout my nineteen-year teaching career, I have taught English in three countries abroad and Spanish in five states here in the United States. The youngest students were in a third-grade English course in Spain and the oldest students were in a community college class in Rancho Cordoba, California. With such diverse groups, I have maintained success in teaching by considering the following three points as my foundation: 1) a positive learning environment 2) consistency and equality, and 3) a student-centered classroom.
In my opinion, the central goal of a professor is to create a positive learning environment. To do this, I work diligently to ensure tight group cohesion, especially in the beginning. By establishing a positive group identity, the students feel more relaxed and at ease. For example, I enjoy arriving early and chatting with individual students about their classes, hobbies, etc and then incorporating that information into the class lesson or mentioning it in front of the group; whether it is a birthday, birth of a child or a photo of them in the school newspaper, I try to bring attention to the good fortunes and accomplishments of my students in front of the group. For me personally, I think the highest compliment a student can pay is telling (or showing) me that s/he really wants to be in the classroom and looks forward to coming each and every day.
Pertaining to consistency, I refer to two areas. First, I refer to consistency with the target language. If the students are to gain respect for the language learning in general, the target language and the different cultures of the target language, then all facets of the learning process must be done in the target language. By teaching about Spanish in English, we as promoters of the language are doing our students a disservice. In my class, I always stress the utter importance of a Spanish-speaking atmosphere and the students flourish in it. I promote office hours and e-mail as avenues through which the students can ask questions or discuss any matter in English, if they wish.
Second, I refer to the style of instruction of the professor. It is crucial that we teach in a way that reflects our personality. That is, if we give rules we do not enforce or pretend to know things we really do not, the students will be able to detect superficiality and insincerity quite easily. Students always know what to expect and how I carry myself in the classroom.
A core element of my teaching is equality. I am a strict egalitarian and I lay out clearly in my syllabi rules that equally apply to everyone. All of us lead quite busy lives and therefore, I offer ‘safety valves’ in the class for everyone in the class and not on a case-by-case basis. Students appreciate knowing that they will be treated equally and that there are clear policies laid out in the syllabus that help all of us maintain equality.
Lastly, I must say that after observing many teaching styles throughout the years, I have noticed that many educators suffer from what is called the ‘Atlas Complex.’ The ‘Atlas Complex’ occurs when teachers want to put the world on their shoulders and carry the load by keeping the focus on them. Students often become complacent and bored because they want to engage in the language. When I walk by classes here, almost invariably I only hear lecture. Though that certainly has its importance, students appreciate my courses because I give them as much opportunity as I can for them to produce and practice the language.
In order to fully succeed in the second-language classroom, students must take responsibility for their own learning and participate as an active learner. The study of Spanish is an exciting and challenging subject matter; each and every class will be thoroughly enriched when we are all active learners. To realize these goals, the student will need to be a critically-thinking student, which means s/he must be willing to do the following:
First, you must be willing to read the assigned pages before going to class; without reading the material, the class will seem stale and unneeded. If you bring to class your questions, doubts, experiences, comments, and thoughts on the reading, the class will be a lively, thought-provoking environment. Reading is an integral aspect to the success of learning the material throughout the course.
Second, you must be willing to speak in class, both in small- and whole-group work; by actively participating, we all enhance the learning atmosphere of the class and gain a greater command of the material.
Third, you must be willing to write in prose and in paragraph form, use appropriate linguistics vocabulary, and offer a clear, in-depth explanation of the topics we treat. By doing this, I am able to fully assess just how far you have advanced in your learning.
Fourth, you must be willing to listen with a careful ear to lectures and your colleagues’ comments, questions, and observations. By doing so, you will improve your comprehension of both the language and the material in question.
Fifth, you must be willing to problem-solve. A vital part of critically-thinking comes from solving problems and gaining a deeper understanding of the material; this way, there is less rote-learning and more active learning, which helps us retain information longer.
Sixth, you must be willing to carry out research and investigation. An essential aspect of a critically-thinking graduate student is his/her development of research and investigation. As such, you will need to develop your ability to find, evaluate, and categorize appropriate sources.
Finally, to maximize your learning experience, you must be willing to be pro-active. It is the student’s responsibility to take initiative in his/her learning. The syllabus shows you how to meet expectations, but it is up to you to demand excellence of yourself, seek out the professor during office hours to ask questions, anticipate problems and successfully address them well before deadlines, among other qualifications. How pro-active you are in your learning is one component of your ‘Professionalism’ grade. Retroactive excuses are not accepted.
In sum, by combining these seven components of learning, it is a ‘win/win’ situation for all of us: by developing these abilities, you ‘win’ in that you advance as a critically-thinking student and show you that you are serious about your college education and that you respect and value learning, each other, and the professor. I ‘win’ by helping you advance these abilities to the fullest extent possible, which will help to both succeed in the course and outside of college in all of your future endeavors.
Below is my previous teaching philosophy which was based on lower-division, vocabulary-building courses in Spanish:
Teaching Philosophy from 1995-2005