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   Sample Philosophy of Teaching Statement: English    

Philosophy of Teaching Statement
Kristina Busse
Department of English

Teaching—especially in the humanities—should always strive to move beyond the simple divulging of facts and knowledge or even the training of certain skills. Instead, teachers in a liberal arts environment have the broad responsibility of serving as guide and mentor on an intellectual journey, opening and broadening curious minds by exposing them to new thoughts and ideas. As liberal education helps expand the students’ horizon and forces them to critically examine their values, goals, and ideals, they learn to sympathize and empathize with others of different backgrounds. This, in turn, enables them to come fully into their own as human beings who can share the common bond of humanity with other world citizens as they retain and value their distinguished and separate identities. This mandate of creating self-aware, self-reliant, and self-governing citizens is the underlying philosophy in all my teaching.

Accordingly, not only do my classes teach the students various ways of acquiring, analyzing, and evaluating information, they also afford them the opportunity to confront new ideas and different points of views, all the while increasing their ability to discuss and defend their own positions both in discussions and in writing. In my composition class this translates into an interactive, group-oriented classroom that focuses in equal amounts on the three components of critical thinking, reading, and writing. As such, I emphasize peer workshops, group work, and the use of student essays as reading material in an attempt to sharpen the students’ critical reading skills and create a more comfortable class environment. My literature courses highlight different approaches of interpretation as it trains the students to generate and defend their own critical readings of literary texts. Alternating informational lectures, student-driven class discussions, and guided work in small groups produces a learning situation in which the students can comfortably share and discuss their ideas and literary interpretations.

My composition class is a mixture of argumentative theory which presents students with the vocabulary to discuss their methods of argumentation, critical essays that open debates among the students, and student essays, both as examples and to train critical reading. By reading and debating current articles, the students are forced to address controversial topics, analyze their opponent's arguments and logically defend their own position. By analyzing their peers’ essays, they learn to detect rhetorical structures and logical fallacies in order to teach them to become better readers of their own work. By continually writing, revising, rewriting, they learn to translate their thoughts into a reader-friendly argument that is coherently structured, well-argued, and aware of its audience. Furthermore, through interrelated paper assignments and revisions, I allow students to rework their own arguments and improve their writing skills. Specifically, I incorporate earlier assignments, such as position papers, into the research paper assignment in order to emphasize the importance of extending and improving one’s own ideas and to ward off the danger of solely relying on secondary research. Since the students have already thought about the topic and have developed a claim of their own, they usually are less intimidated by the overwhelming amount of information that confronts them during research. Finally, I emphasize group workshops to create a class environment in which the students know, teach, and help one another in their writing.

My approach to literature courses is somewhat similar to composition classes as I teach students to read closely, analyze, and interpret so as to learn reading literature as a skill rather than simply see it as a body of information to be imparted by the teacher. Through a mixture of lectures, close readings (at times via group work with specific assignments), and general class discussions, I introduce the students to important authors and texts within the context of larger literary movements. My use of directed group work gives the students the opportunity to engage with the text on their own as it forces them to interact with one another. This also allows me to observe the quieter students at work and creates a class situation in which the students feel comfortable with one another and are less hesitant to speak their minds. My overall goal is to situate the specific literary texts in a historical, philosophical, and social framework and to show the interactions between literary culture and society at large. To do so, I give brief historical overviews, expand the classes with social and political background readings, and relate the literature to other art forms such as paintings or film.

One particularly helpful recent addition to teaching composition and literature has been the World Wide Web. In the classes I have previously taught in a web-based environment, I welcomed the students' opportunity to interact via email and learn how to conduct and evaluate research on the World Wide Web, culminating in the creation of a webpage related to their research papers as a final project. In so doing, the students not only interact more with me and one another, but also become active participants in a community larger than the classroom itself. Moreover, they are able to envision an audience for their work other than their teacher or classmates. With the increasing availability of literary texts and scholarly materials on the Internet, I believe a web-based course would be effective for both literary and composition classes.

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