“Teachers are facilitators. The student is the one actually doing the work.”
My thick-accented Moroccan guitar teacher contended this, with repetitive insistence, as we drilled scales to the rhythmic clicking of metronome. Over time, through several mentoring and teaching positions, I have come to appreciate this passive yet directed approach to teaching that emphasizes the students’ capacity to learn more than anything. The purpose of a teacher is to use whatever means possible to facilitate learning and understanding.
My first teaching experience was an informal class of 10 avid high school students hoping to make the school’s ocean science bowl team. As the senior member of the team, I was tasked with developing lesson plans and teaching lectures of college-level physical oceanography to 15-17 year olds. While in retrospect the call was well beyond my expertise as an educator, I took on the challenge in a way that catered well to the students. They were motivated to read the text and memorize the material in order to make the team, so I decided to attempt higher levels of cognition by thoroughly explaining more complicated concepts. I attempted to ask questions that made students synthesize and analyze information from different lessons. I became known for my challenging multi-part questions that forced students to consider the intertwined natures of the global processes. The competitive but rewarding nature of the team drove students to study the hard facts and knowledge on their own time, which allowed me to work with the fruits of their own motivation. The eventual goal of this question-driven instruction was to help them develop thought patterns that would let them synthesize diverse information by themselves.
My subsequent teaching experiences were significantly more different, by virtue of being one-on-one experiences. After becoming a private guitar teacher in high school, I worked to tune my lesson plans to the pace and learning styles of my students. Although teaching music does not follow Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was still able to iteratively build complexity and deeper comprehension of technique through a single song. As I built up the students’ repertoire, I encouraged them to ask questions and lead their attention to parallels between different songs, and to ultimately synthesize what they learned to write their own. Students were encouraged by my assignment of approachable chunks of songs they liked, and by the ultimate satisfaction of not only enjoying the experience, but also by gaining comprehension of musical theory through the exercises.
As a certified SCUBA teaching assistant, I have spent many hours teaching diving classes in both the pool and the ocean. As a teaching assistant I was paired with 2-3 of the students to provide individual attention while an experienced instructor lead the course. Since I was paired with new students every week, I began to become more aware of various learning styles. Some students responded well to discussion and explanation, while others benefited the most from demonstration and practice of the various skills. As I progress through my career and start to develop my own coursework, I hope to incorporate hands-on research and lecturing, which similarly can be used hand-in-hand to address different learning styles.
TA’ing a university introductory biology laboratory was one of the most gratifying experiences of my academic career. Many other teaching assistants from the labs expressed a begrudging sentiment towards the content in the course. It was very clear when this was passed onto the student, preventing the student from fulfilling their complete potential. By committing time every week to process the lab information before my classes, I was able to provide a more engaging, fun, and educational lab for the students. I reprepared the lecture material with a logical flow, with fun topical YouTube videos sprinkled throughout. I attempted to be as available as possible for my students, providing them an online form through which they could anonymously critique my teaching, and offering extra office hours whenever possible. After the class ended, when I learned through my instructor evaluations that the students had appreciated and benefited from the effort I put into the class. The fact that the work I put into this university class facilitated their learning experience has been the single most gratifying moment of teaching.
My teaching philosophy has become more clear to me as I continue to encounter more mentoring and teaching opportunities. Initially, I interpreted my guitar teacher’s remarks as an act of humbling himself to glorify my accomplishments. After a number of teaching experiences, however, I have begun to appreciate his teaching philosophy. I do not think it diminishes the difficulty of teaching, but instead it redirects my primary focus to provide the students with a means to succeed.