Statement on Teaching Philosophy
John W. Norton, Jr.
My teaching philosophy is fairly simple and pragmatic, and yet harnesses my own particular talents of passion and emotional empathy. In short, my philosophy is that students get bored and frustrated, so the best teaching methods incorporate encouragement and enthusiasm.
I know this is a “basic” philosophy, but it is not basic for lack of understanding of the various teaching methods and approaches which exist. I have immersed myself in the teaching literature, and was a graduate student mentor (GSM) for five semesters. I took the ENGR 580 Teaching for Engineers course, am a student member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Just recently I co-authored two conference papers that will be presented at the upcoming ASEE national conference. I am the lead author on one paper in which we describe the creation of a new curriculum for an incoming freshman engineering preparatory course. I am the second author on the other paper which describes the College of Engineering GSM program. I drone on about these things, not to brag, but to support my claim that my philosophy – while simple – is effective, and more importantly, is based in and supported by my knowledge of effective teaching methods.
My philosophy is also guided by my twofold talents of encouragement and enthusiasm. I listen to my students, and am usually very capable in providing the proper type of encouragement and understanding. In other words, I have a very different approach when a student is close to tears versus handling a student who feels dumb, or is bitter, or is having difficult personal problems. In addition, I also bring a high energy level to my classes. Just recently I was trying to explain how a computer program can use a vector to keep track of how many times a particle moves to a particular position. Some students seemed unsure, so I provided a visual example by leaping about from square to square on the carpet in the front of the room, shouting out what square I was on as well as how many time I had landed on each square. I had the undivided attention of every student in the class, but more importantly, they learned that point. I feel a deep personal satisfaction whenever I inform students, “Class is over,” and they exclaim, “Already?” I have a talent for bringing energy to a classroom, and so I exploit it and have developed it into a teaching tool.
I believe that there is a fundamental need for both encouragement and enthusiasm in the classroom setting. The enthusiasm component is usually addressed in the teaching literature as “active learning.” Since there is generally broad agreement with this approach, I want to detail my rationale for the second part of my philosophy: my strong belief in the importance of “encouragement” in the classroom setting. The dual challenges of new life experiences and complex subject material, combined with new friends and the loss of old ones, can create a very discouraging atmosphere for students. I have read considerable literature on student/personal/life success to deepen my understanding of all aspects of “success.” I have applied my understanding to develop methods and techniques to improve students’ interest and energy, to drive the students forward during rough times, and to draw them further when they are at their peak. I strongly believe that the importance of personal encouragement is significantly underrated in both the teaching literature and in our general understanding of student success.