Sunday, 21 January 2018

A teaching statement from a few years ago

Teaching Statement

The humanities and philosophy deal not only with the traditional legacy derived from past cultures and times but also with the challenges the world is currently facing: the plurality of identities, languages, migration, environmental change, critical thinking on theory, action and policies… These legacies and dynamics nurture inventive approaches to social change.

-On the Occasion of World Philosophy Day, November 17, 2016 UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

My approach to teaching is to emphasize Geography not only as a science but also as a practice that has multidimensional implications, from local to global, from individuals to the world. Geography is dominant in explaining the reality today, and many other realities in the past. In this contemporary era of globalization we as people are as circuitously connected as our globe, where everything is intertwined.

These same principles apply to my approach to lecturing. I want my students to simplify, engage, create and make connections, and these major themes can be tailored to my syllabus. In reference to UNESCO’s proclamation above, I would present this current and annual digest at class and encourage my students to break it down into sentences and analyze it through the lens of a geographer. In a two-way dialogue, I ascertain the students to stay in close touch with the world around them, to have them build relationships between the concepts, practices and the subject matter in question. Having students to interpret their academic material in connection to recent stories and historical narratives, but also to empirical research and theoretical frameworks, helps them identify subjects and elements, which all have a place in the geographical entirety. I welcome my students to associate their individual learning with people, events and institutions, and develop a scientific, coherent understanding from relations to their physical environment to forces of cause-and-effect and -social change- over time.

Teaching skills and content are inseparable. I take a great pride in the organization of my lectures and using a variety of methods to balance and respond to the unique atmosphere of a given class: primary and secondary readings from different sources; presentations, illustrations and case studies; quizzes, diaries, essays and even role-playing exercises. As the entire class receives clear guidelines for required coursework, it is also helpful to assign weekly readings or short in-class presentations for small groups. This teaches not only the presenters but also the entire class about taking ownership by increasing the interactions and enlarging the course’s scope. As it is crucial to demand independent study, some students are less capable of completing the assignments on time.  It is only realistic to review the selected topics in class for discussion. This allows comments by everyone. Sometimes less is more.

Pedagogical issues are my priority. Fresh to instructing, I can relate to the expectations and insecurities that the students are faced with, but have confidence in independence and cooperation for both parties. Even in a situation with a lack of theoretical knowledge, I complement with intellectual creativity, where strategic planning and structure support my performance. Teaching is a discipline for getting attention to and finding motivation through -which I cannot emphasize enough- connections. Indeed, I believe that teaching can be an invitation to this relationship. If genuinely self-motivated, lifelong learning is to take place, but the choice is voluntary. However, I seek to inspire my students to feel encouraged and challenged through participation and critical thinking, which can be achieved by setting a good example and goals that are continuously assessed by a teacher-student relationship and results. I encourage my students to question and challenge me as an Instructor, who has a teaching style that embraces interaction, whether it is a discussion or an exchange of written notes, inside or outside the classroom. In simplicity, students need to feed on information and be hungry for asking questions and be satisfied with getting answers.

As a teacher, I am approachable and resourceful. In retrospect, my years as a student in Finland, Germany, Vietnam and Montana, I remember the professors who were influential and made a difference. These experiences are valuable in understating how critical it is to be helpful and truly available for your students and colleagues. There are multiple passages to lower the barriers to bringing students and teachers closer to each other in the academic life, just to mention social media and informal study sessions. I also wonder if the Adjuncts across the different departments on campus have a formal or informal network for exchange and would be fascinated to become a co-founder of such a group.

Before my closing statement, I cannot disregard sensitivity in regards to the recent political environment. Due to the rather revolutionary presidential election, education and outreach are inevitably integrated and involved. As an educator and professional, I have the skills gained in academic and diplomatic setting to keep my performance under scrutiny. A passionate teacher engages in life coaching and must always have a bigger picture in mind to guide the students in their path to adapt and succeed. It is so important to reflect and reconstruct short and long-term goals, whether insecurities and challenges face individuals or nations. Environmental education has a key role in moving us forward and to become more progressive. There is not a moment to be wasted in a classroom.

In conclusion, I like to summarize my rhetoric in this given statement, as I would summarize each of my lectures by pointing out 3 major lessons learned:

1.     In teaching geography, the bottom line philosophy to embrace connectedness, is to invite students to be in a relationship with the academic education that is geographically, politically and culturally interconnected with the world around them.
2.     I believe Geography, like a foreign language, is best learned by immersion in the context that led the student or teacher to ask his or her question about the human environment- to be approachable and challenged.
3.     No individual or nation can achieve alone, the connections we make bring us closer to our goals.