Over the many years I have been tutoring, I have time and again found myself hating the teachers that assign the homework and tests my students have to work on. Of course, this doesn't happen every time, or even most times, but it happens often enough that it prompted me to write this.
The reason I dislike these teachers so much is not related to how much work they create for me (I love my work!) or how much they make my students suffer (they don't), but rather to the fact that I consider some of the things they do to be the mark of a bad teacher. A lazy teacher. A complacent teacher. A teacher more intent on getting a grade from their students that on actually teaching them. A teacher, in short, who should not call themselves 'teacher'.
Naturally, this led me to think about my own teaching style. If I have things to complain about in others, surely I know exactly what I'm doing? A little bit in horror, I realized I had never truly thought about which ones of the techniques I use when teaching are good, which could be better, which are just outright bad. Even worse, it seemed I didn't really have a well-formed teaching philosophy to back up all of these ideas. It was definitely time to change that. So, after much thinking and consideration, here it is. My teaching philosophy.
I have always been a curious person, which is the mark of a scientist. Years of physics and math classes, physics research and lab work have turned me even more into one. Thus, it should come as no surprise that I have a very scientific approach to teaching. Let me explain what I mean by that.
The key part of the scientific method is that of experimentation. This is the step that gives validity to our scientific discoveries: we didn’t just think this might be a good idea, but rather we tried it, and it worked. This is the philosophy I like to apply in my teaching. Whether I think that a certain way to explain a topic is clever, or clear, or fascinating doesn’t really matter. What matters is what the student, the recipient of my explanation, thinks about it. I have a very different background against which I judge the merit of an explanation from the one my students have, both because of my greater knowledge and experience with the topic, and also simply because of the varying degrees of interest we all have in the subject. Therefore, my judgment of an explanation will not always match the students’. Their opinion is the one that matters.
This brings me to the topic of how to establish what my students’ opinion is. Again, I rely heavily on scientific principles for this. This time, I make extensive use of observation, but done in as much of an objective way as possible, like scientific observation should be done. I look for feedback in students’ facial and bodily expressions, in their behavior, in the way they express themselves both when asking questions and when trying to explain the material themselves, in the success at using their newly gained knowledge to solve problems, in the specific nature of the mistakes they make, and in any other situation that would give me information about the usefulness of my teaching. Armed with this information, I can adapt my teaching to better match my students, so I can help them master the material I am teaching.
The technique that follows from the above considerations, together with the belief that a teacher should strive not just to convey information, but to help their students reason and think is the basis of my teaching philosophy. Everything I do as a teacher is derived from these ideas.