Today was my first day of spring term. As I was working my students through my syllabi, one thing seemed to go over extremely well -- and so I thought I might share it with you all.
A couple of years ago, my university organized a student panel discussion on, "What I wish my professors knew." One of the more surprising things about the session -- to me, at any rate, and to a few faculty I chatted with afterward -- was that almost every student on the panel made a point of saying they wished their professors knew to share their teaching philosophy in their syllabi.
This surprised me (and a few other faculty members I spoke with). It surprised me because I had never included my teaching philosophy in my syllabi before, and because I could not recall having taken a course in which a professor did that sort of thing. Anyway, as a result of attending that session, for the past several years I have devoted a full, single-spaced page in my syllabi to explaining what I'm all about as a teacher. I won't go into detail about my teaching philosophy, but among other things, I make it clear that:
- I am committed to seeing each of them succeed, and to putting them in a position to do so with hard work (provided they are willing to do so).
- My courses -- and grading standards -- are really challenging, not because I want to punish students but because I think I owe it to them to give them a great education (which suitably high standards are a part of, in my view).
- I treat the classroom as a place of collaborative inquiry, where I serve as a facilitator and active participant, seeking answers along with them -- not a "sage" who will simply lecture to them about philosophy (I often mention here that I aim to do real research in the classroom, exploring ideas of my own, just as I expect them to share ideas of their own).
- They can expect some low grades early on in my course -- again, not because I'm mean but because one cannot expect to do difficult things like philosophy correct the very first time.
Anyway, whatever you might think of the way I approach teaching, my students really seemed to appreciate the information. My sense -- from their facial expressions, and from a few I chatted with after class -- was that it accomplished a few important things. First, and most obviously, it gave them a clear idea of what to expect (e.g. my class will not be easy, I am a tough grader, etc.). Second, I think it conveyed that I care about them (which I do), and that am invested in their success (I am). Third, I really felt like it helped me come across not just as some dude who is their teacher (or as someone who will be grading them), but as a real human being who actually has real hopes, aims, and aspirations, both as a teacher and as a human being. Finally, I also got the sense that they appreciated knowing the rationale behind my practices (it's one thing to be a hard grader; it's another thing to get students to see that you're tough because you sincerely want what's best for them, and believe that high standards are necessary to challenge them).
Anyway, I just thought I might share the practice. I don't know how many of you do something like it (what do I know? Maybe everyone does this sort of thing nowadays!). All I know is that it felt good (and right) to begin the semester being clear and forthright to students about why I'm there, and that many my students seemed to appreciate it, too.
Does anyone else do this sort of thing? Have you had similar (or dissimilar) experiences? Are there any other teaching practices anyone is interested in sharing?