My philosophy of teaching emphasizes the importance of educating students how to think, write, and speak well. Rather than the means to the end of a mere credential, a liberal arts education should teach students “how” to think, not necessarily “what” to think. In what follows, I outline some of the coordinates that orient my teaching philosophy.
To begin, I strive to focus students’ attention on a shared text, which serves as the common center for the classroom lectures and discussion. Focusing on a shared text prevents the classroom from devolving into the exchange of ungrounded assertions or displays of personality. A text situates meaning as something emergent between teacher and students alike. Further, I challenge students to engage in deep reading of good texts. By working through good books with students, I aim to promote a sense of wonder and genuine love for learning. Students are often surprised by their capacity to entertain a complex argument or difficult work.
I also stress the importance of students’ ability to ask good questions. Questions serve as a way to interrogate texts and open up classroom discussion. Instead of merely transferring information from teacher to student, soliciting questions allows students to take responsibility for their education. The ability to ask good questions serves as a sure indicator of a well-educated student. In an era fascinated by the achievements of science and technology, good questions can help remedy the blind spots in any given method or technique. Thus, I help students to work through a multiplicity of answers, as well as the ethical implications of their responses.
My philosophy of teaching also stresses the ethical implications of ideas. I work from the assumption that each historical moment poses new questions that demand a fitting response. By introducing real-world examples into class, I challenge students to respond to the exigences of this current historical moment. Students reflect upon taken-for-granted practices and language use within their own culture. Whenever possible, I draw upon examples from literature, film, and even social media in order to enter into the students’ world and facilitate group discussion. Without making connections to students’ lives, learning remains a lifeless abstraction. Moreover, rather than simply remaining in the realm of theory, my teaching philosophy works from the orientation of praxis, or theory-informed action. Students put ideas into practice for the betterment of their lives and the lives of others. I remind students that being an effective communicator matters as much as being an excellent, virtuous communicator.
Finally, I invite students to consider how they might learn from different cultures and traditions, which is especially important in an era marked by virtue contention and disagreement. Drawing upon my training in phenomenology and hermeneutics, I teach students how each theory or worldview has its own set of ontological and epistemological presuppositions. I challenge students to reflect upon their own presuppositions, as well as the assumptions of their own culture. At Duquesne, I have worked with students from a number of different cultural backgrounds. I encourage students to bring their cultural traditions into the classroom and to share how communication varies in their respective cultures. I strive to create an environment of mutual respect for and dialogue with other cultures. My teaching philosophy emphasizes how a deep appreciation for other cultures can help students to better understand their own culture, as well as their common human nature with diverse others.