I believe that a good professor can make a real difference in the lives of their students if they show a passion for teaching and learning. I find political science to be a fascinating and exciting subject to teach. It is a subject that is pertinent to the lives of all of my students and impacts them each and every day whether they know it or not. From my experience thus far at the University of Georgia, I learned that many, if not most, of my students have not taken a course in political science before. Having students in class without any background or significant understanding of political science poses serious challenges for me as an instructor. I have to find a way to inspire my students so that they learn to love coming to class. My educational philosophy is specifically designed to combine both my academic and professional experiences to create a vibrant learning atmosphere that my students will enjoy.
Most freshman enrolled in the subjects I have taught, Introduction to American Government, and Introduction to Global Issues, are being exposed to political science for the first time in their lives. This provides me with a unique opportunity to be the first teacher to educate them on the subject matter. To effectively teach them, I must earn the trust of my students by showing them that I have a solid command for the topics covered in the syllabus. I oftentimes relate my personal experiences to the topics of discussion for the day in order to show the class that I am personally engaged in the subject matter outside of the classroom. In each lecture that I conduct, I believe it is my duty as an instructor to try to teach my students how the theoretical concepts discussed in class lectures and readings apply in practice in the real world. Very few students in my classes will go on to have a career as a political scientist in academia. Knowing this, I try to operationalize the concepts in my courses to fit real world situations that my students will be confronted with in the professional world.
After establishing to my students that I am personally invested in the course material, I try to teach the subject matter in a way that brings all students present in the lecture hall into classroom discussion. To do this, I try to call on students who are oftentimes too timid to participate. I find that once I can get these students to participate that classroom discussion becomes conducive to learning for everyone. I try to ask my students thought provoking questions that are likely to elicit an opinion. For example, I will ask a student who rarely if ever participates in class to name one political topic for the class to discuss. I then ask the student what their opinion is on the subject matter. Then, I use their contribution as a springboard to launch into a more in depth discussion of the subjects being discussed in the daily lecture.
I view my role in managing classroom discussion as akin to that of a baseball umpire. My job is to make sure that the views my students articulate in class are factually accurate and are imparted to class in an appropriate and timely manner. Doing this allows me to avoid having to hear long diatribes from eager students that love to hear themselves talk. It also allows me to stop students from learning things from their peers in class that are factually inaccurate or overtly biased in favor of one particular viewpoint.
I try to show my students that I actually care about them as individuals and their grades in the course. I realize that students oftentimes have personal problems and that on occasion they may have a real illness or family emergency that is not made up. I go through great pains to tell my students that I want to see them succeed and that I am eager to help them if they need further mentoring outside of the classroom. I routinely remind all of my students that I conduct office hours and maintain availability outside of class if needed. I also provide my students with professional advice and job hunting tips. Likewise, I also write letters of recommendation for deserving students in my class who are looking for opportunities to further advance their own academic and professional careers.
I hold myself to high ethical standards inside and outside of the classroom. I warn my students about the pitfalls of plagiarism and its potential impact on one’s academic and professional career. I avoid engaging my students in social settings or online via social media. That being said, I have on a few occasions attended meetings with my students in university sanctioned clubs and professional organizations that are relevant to my academic and professional interests. Such experiences, I have found, actually have a multiplier effect in the classroom and increase the breadth and scope of intellectual curiosity among my students.
I am also concerned about improving my performance and teaching skills. I routinely ask my senior professors for their input on my teaching evaluations. In the future, I hope to improve my teaching skills by attending training and development courses that focus on using state of the art technology in the classroom. I am also interested in finding ways to incorporate undergraduate students into my own academic research projects. I have found that many of my students take an interest in my own personal research and want to help me in any way that they can. Including them in future projects is a strategic objective I hope to accomplish as a professor in future years.