I teach to help students make the college experience personal. Learning is personal. Whether in a class of 300 students or 13, each student make senses of the content for him/herself. So, to make it personal, I strive to establish relationships with my students so that the state of not knowing is not humiliating or embarrassing for them but is empowering so that in their efforts to make sense they are free to inquire, reason, and cognitively wrestle with the content.
Students want faculty to demonstrably take an interest in them. I try to find that delicate balance where the students know I am truly interested in them yet recognize that at the core of my interest is their intellectual development. This means using humor in class to create a comfortable environment, having lunch with students, attending an occasional athletic or club event, or simply initiating a casual conversation outside of class so that the foundation for discussing a student’s learning can be established. Teaching in this manner is an ongoing challenge because students aren’t always concerned about their intellectual growth; but they almost always are interested in themselves. So, I attempt to use their self-interest to increase their focus on the intellectual-self.
I consider lecturing to be a small part of teaching; and often, the easiest part. The challenge and the fun of teaching is designing experiences before, during, after, and instead of the lecture that cause students to create meaning. When students have the basics and are ready to do something with their knowledge, teaching becomes the real-time dynamic interaction of minds overtaking content and content overtaking minds. As the instructor, I no longer control the classroom; I only direct it, and my direction is negotiated with students who now assume more control because their knowledge empowers them. Now the students can banter with each other and with me; they challenge what I say and question my perspectives as they each struggle to truly come to know the content.
Often, the most meaningful learning experiences do not occur in a classroom; instead, they occur when students are challenged to go beyond their limits or operate outside of their comfort zone. I teach to make learning personal.