(Education = method x creativity²)
“Though this be madnesse, Yet there is Method in it”
It is my professional aim to encourage and support a learning environment that
is student-centered, as opposed to teacher- or content-centered. This aspired-to
learning realm is one that partners me with students in a dynamic and organic
process that, like great theater, can lead to revelatory, “I will never be the
same again” moments. Though thoroughly planned for and anticipated (the method),
this kind of highly interactive, collaborative classroom community embraces
change, new ideas and new perspectives, and critical thinking (the creativity²).
The Einsteinian formula is meant to suggest that creativity applied both to class planning and class presentation will produce an education experience students describe as fun, engaging, provocative and worthwhile. The goals of this experience are to encourage skill development in several areas, including communication, critical thinking and teamwork. Helping students embrace change and new ideas, and preparing them for professional life and lifelong learning also are goals.
The classroomIn achieving this multi-dimensional learning environment, it is my responsibility and that of each student to make the classroom a safe place to voice opinions, to openly debate, and to express difference and diversity. To these ends, the classroom environment must be one of tolerance and mutual respect, a place where each mind and voice is valued. As the professor, it is up to me to model appropriate behavior for students. I realize that my example is more powerful than any written statement, so it must be one of honesty, respect, fairness and kept promises. These promises include those implicit in syllabi, assignments and office hours. Realizing that the power of personal preference is subtle but strong, I strive to prevent picking or having favorites -- the fudge factor. Don’t get me wrong, fudge is welcome, especially maple walnut. But personal preferences and prejudices should not and, to the extent I am conscious of it, do not affect my evaluations of students.
The classroom also should be a place of variety. Lecturing might be predictable and some ways efficient, but without student participation and interaction with the content, learning likely will be superficial and fleeting. It is my desire that students take ownership of the material. To do that, they must be involved. Students in my classes should expect lots of questions, hypothetical situations to think through, ethical dilemmas, role-playing sessions, small group discussions, and informal and even formal debates.
Teacher evaluations and expectations
On student evaluations, I hope to see (and have seen) recurrent use of adjectives such as passionate, enthusiastic, engaging, encouraging, fair and reasonable, knowledgeable, inquisitive, humorous, challenging. I expect also to see acknowledgement of my interest in them not only as college students but as individuals, as well. The value placed on interactivity, creativity, and community is a recognition that teaching occurs, as Joseph Lowman wrote, “in what are undeniably dramatic and interpersonal arenas . . . (Education) is above all an enterprise involving students’ human emotions and personalities as well as their cognitive reasoning” (1995). Teaching in part by example, I try to communicate how I, too, am perpetually learning, and that that is a good thing. I testify here that my students teach me much.
I am selfish, however. In engaging and challenging students intellectually and emotionally, I expect their best work, which I realize comes at some cost to them. When successful, I have motivated them to achieve and change in ways that go beyond the course content and their own expectations.
The philosophy articulated here is not static. It changes every day. It is my profound hope, however, that many of the hallmarks of this articulation will be living truths decades from now, hallmarks such as openness, fairness and partnership. The inscription over the entrance to the University of Paris is inspiration. Facing the burial remains of Victor Hugo, Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau, the inscription declares, "Libertè, Egalitè, Fraternitè."