Matt, the Teacher

Background

My first taste of teaching was in Busingen, Germay at European Nazarene College. EuNC gave me the chance to teach Church History, from the Reformation to the Present. My first class was equal parts challenging and affirming of my belief that this is what I wanted to do with my talents and abilities. From there I also was able to direct the Choir, teach ESL classes to the town folk as well as students from varying countries, and several other theological courses. My colleagues were always invaluable sources of inspiration, affirmation, and encouragement. My experience at EuNC led me to desire to pursue a PhD in History. I am now at San Diego State University anticipating my graduation this semester with a Master of Arts in History. My experiences here have also been very affirming and fulfilling. I love being a Teacher’s Assistant for Edward Blum. The students are diverse, fun, and challenging.

My Philosophy of Learning

Creativity, Collaboration, and Constructive Feedback

My philosophy of education focuses on creating an environment where students can think creatively, work collaboratively, and receive constructive feedback.

My role as a teacher is not to disseminate information, but rather to challenge, inspire, and encourage students to become life-long learners. Learning must become engaging and even addicting for them to thrive in any environment that they are faced with. This is accomplished by providing a variety of learning formats. Lectures, open discussions, small group discussions, collaborative projects, and online media are all tools that help engage students with course materials.

CREATIVE thinking is encouraged in a classroom by providing problems that have a wide variety of answers or approaches. In my classroom multiple choice testing is anathema to creative thinking. Instead, students develop projects that ask something of themselves. For example, in quizzes and tests, students are not asked to simply regurgitate their reading or lecture notes. Instead, students are asked to synthesize different elements of the reading to form an argument and defend their positions logically and critically. Team presentations or projects also encourage students to think creatively about the subject matter by asking students to be presenters of the information in an entertaining and illuminating fashion.

Rote memorization is an important element of historical knowledge, but data and facts and figures only have meaning when we give them meaning. The best way to give a subject meaning is for students to take a historical figure or event and process it in a similar fashion to how they process their social environment. I want students to ask questions like: “What would I do if I were a Confederate soldier and was afraid my slaves might rise up and murder my family in the night while I’m off at battle?”

COLLABORATION is a necessary aspect of developing strong skills for the work environment. Therefore, students must also work together toward a common objective that complements their personal projects as well as enhances their corporate project. Working as a team in itself does not necessarily result in better overall work unless the collaborative aspect of the assignment is uniquely structured so that every person in the team is necessary and valuable.

One example might be that a team of four is researching the Civil War. They have to create a presentation for the class that explains the tension among whites and blacks in the North and South. Each person in the team would be researching one element of that for their final papers; i.e. Blacks in the North, Whites in the North, Blacks in the South, Whites in the South. Then they would have to collaborate together to make a presentation on the general tensions between whites and blacks in the North and South. Such projects help students “go deep” into one particular subject without losing the bigger picture as well as encouraging collaborative skills and presentation skills.

CONSTRUCTIVE feedback is necessary for students to grow and benefit from the work they do in class and in their assignments. Instructors, though fallible, are one primary model of learning for students. This responsibility cannot be taken lightly. Though it is important to emphasize the reality that teachers are learning alongside students in each session, it also cannot be ignored that students can and should benefit directly from instructors’ knowledge and experience. I believe the best way for that benefit to happen is by direct feedback from teacher to student. This is a challenging goal considering the ever upward trend of classroom sizes. But it is my determination to conduct a class room environment that enables me to interact directly with students as well as to construct assignments that allow for specific and direct feedback.

Feedback that is constructive does 3 things:

  1. It is positive without naivety.
  2. It is specific to learning objective of the assignment or in-class goal
  3. It inspires the student towards the bigger world of history and its study

Here are some examples of constructive feedback that I would provide:

  1. In a hybrid classroom (both online and brick-and-mortar), students may be required to participate in online discussion boards. They will be asked to post their own 4-5 sentence response to a prompt as well as a 2 sentence reply to 2-3 of their peers’ responses. I would provide a short analysis of their response as well and a follow-up question which they have the opportunity to respond to. This helps students process the content of the lectures and readings at a deeper and more interactive way while allowing students (and myself) the ability to fit the interaction into our busy schedules.
  2. Short papers and essay questions in tests will be graded with a specific rubric which will be provided to students in advance. The rubric will not only show students specifically how they can expect to earn an “A” on the assignment, but also provide me with both a more objective and fair system of analysis in order to grade the assignments, but also to give me specific areas to provide targeted feedback to their work. (See attached sample paper evaluation rubric).
  3. In class discussions are also a very useful place to provide constructive feedback. As the moderator of the discussion I would encourage students to speak their minds in a safe environment and affirm their responses even if their contribution is minor. I would also be sure to point them to great scholars or historical figures that agree with their perspective in the hope that they would be interested in finding out more about them.

By provoking creative thinking, collaborative work, and providing constructive feedback, students in my classes will be mentally engaged at several levels, requiring many different modes of thoughts and participation. I believe this approach ensures that students are continually challenged and helps them maintain constant interest in how the content of the class develops as well as how they can engage with it and create something they are proud of.