Teaching Philosophy

As an instructor, I have had the privilege to work at multiple higher education intuitions, where I taught students of various ages, backgrounds, and abilities. No matter the environment, my teaching approach is built upon a foundation of engaged pedagogy, where the relationship between teacher and student is dialectical, and a shared intellectual project energizes the classroom. This collaborative venture is integral to both my scholarship and leadership skills. While teaching students, I develop new and exciting ways of seeing old material; while also expanding my empathy as I aid them on their journey to internalize the theoretical perspectives they learn. 

 

While teaching, I have two interrelated pedagogical goals. First, I want students to walk away with skills that help them make sense of the world. The ability to think critically, read and analyze both visual and written texts, and meaningfully communicate in speech and writing are invaluable assets. Analytic skills help students negotiate the world at large. It allows them to question the media that permeates their lives while also learning how to deconstruct and think critically about institutional and individual power, key skills for effective leadership in today's economy. An engaged classroom facilitates this learning level as students are encouraged to integrate their lived experiences into the material and try on new theoretical perspectives.

 

Second, we live in an increasingly global community; therefore, students must learn to understand and appreciate themselves and differences in all its forms, including gender, race, ethnicity, geography, religion, sexual orientation, age, class, and ability. I tell my students that by the end of class, they will no longer be able to see clear cut answers to social issues—to see things as "black and white;" instead, they will begin to "see grey," but it's through this grey that "truth" reveals itself. 

 

Students frequently have the desire to find "truth" to understand "reality." The irony, of course, is that the more you know, it seems that you are less able to discern concrete universal facts. Yet through these experiences, "truth" starts to reveal itself; these truths are small and intuitive in nature Oprah Winfrey calls Ah-Ha! Moments. Each Ah-Ha! Moment shed just a fragment to a larger truth. This process of finding "truth" is life long. For the most part, my courses are set up to help students live with multiple truths; therefore, being able to "see grey" becomes a space where they can develop empathy for both the self and the other. They do this by developing vulnerability; this ultimately allows them to relax into the process of what I believe is the human journey to find what Plato called the forms, and what Maslow calls self-actualization. "Seeing grey" allows students to suspend their own opinions and desires, temporarily at least, to approximate a better understanding of difference and diversity, and ultimately themselves.

 

I believe that both of these goals are best achieved through engaged pedagogy so that all students and I learn together inside and outside the classroom. To facilitate this engagement level, I create a comfortable but lively environment to express thoughts. I place myself as a learner in the classroom, and I encourage students to connect the theories and concepts we learn in class to their personal experiences while affirming their contributions to the community are both significant and valued. 

 

Although I have facts and information to relay, I employ a dialectic methodology that asks students to interrogate the material. Frequently, this means asking them to provide personal stories that connect them to the terminology and concepts. At the start of the term, I actively employ popular media since each student comes with their history and may not be able or willing to share it. The media acts as a buffer to all material.

 

In written assignments, students are required to analyze reading and discussion- lecture material, comparing texts and theoretical perspectives while also reflecting on how the material affects them and the way they live their lives. I regularly use an "Ah-Ha journal" assignment to help students connect course material to their world around them. They are asked to reflect on how the material covered intersects with their views of the world. In this assignment, students have come to interact with their epistemological self in various creative ways, either incorporating art, creative non-fiction, or journaling, ultimately becoming more expansive. 

 

Finally, I believe teachers are only as good as their next lesson. I regularly work to improve my teaching and my students' learning. I attend workshops about teaching, take courses, join learning communities, and evaluate student feedback at the end of each term, adjusting my techniques and assignments as necessary. I consider quality teaching a technê—it is not something one can master, but rather a thing that one works on continually while being centered in the understanding it will be forever incomplete.

© 2018- 2021 by Alexander Lester

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