As a student, I always had the greatest respect for those teachers who could teach me not by telling me the answer but by showing me that either I already knew it, or that I could find it myself. It was certainly easy and addictive to accept a straightforward explanation to a question and get on with the day, but I came to find that true learning sprang only from the interaction of the inquisitive mind and the thoughtful teacher who was careful enough not to provide the answer but the path to it.
Since I became a teacher in 1996, I have tried to instil in myself these qualities that I held in such high esteem in my own teachers. I have always had compassion for students, recognizing they all come with their own vision and expectations, their own skills and knowledge, some well-developed and some needing improvement. Through this, I have adopted several tenets that guide my personal approach to teaching:
Believe in beneficence. I have come to believe that in general, almost all students are inherently good. Particularly at the level of pharmacy school, they have a deep desire to learn and become professionals, though their outward demeanour may not always reflect this attitude. Though some students may seem distracted, uninterested, or challenging in nature, at their heart most students possess an inquisitive nature, and a need to succeed, though they may define their own level of success. As a good teacher, it is my job to find and inspire this desire in all students. I recall having several students who entered the rotation viewing it as little more than just a requirement, but exited expressing a newfound love of the profession or desire to do more. I encourage this attitude by letting students know on the first day of a rotation that a very important expectation I have of them is to arrive every single day wanting to learn something. If they do so, I will guarantee to teach them something each day of the experience.
Students should be led, not fed. It is surprising how easy it is to become comfortable with “lecturing” students—whether it is in a full classroom or even one-on-one. This approach is direct and straightforward and leads to large amounts of information that can be delivered. But it is not a very effective teaching strategy, though it may feel like it at the time. True learning and understanding come at the expense of the student’s energy to find their own knowledge. I find it is analogous to riding in a car versus driving myself—I will remember the way and know more about the path taken if I have driven myself rather than just been a passenger. The Socratic method of learning is enjoyable not just for the student but also for the teacher, who must at the same time exert a great deal of effort and energy in constructing the path without revealing the answer directly. My most enjoyable moments as a teacher have come at the conclusion of discussions I have had with students where I provided very few answers but may have in fact asked them more questions than they asked me and led them to the solution in their own minds. Indeed this method takes more time, and may not allow the delivery of every last detail that could be given, but in showing the student that they can think their way through a question or problem, I have done more for them in the long run.
The problem-based approach is most effective. Before they arrive on clinical rotations, I notice students can become frustrated with teachers who insist on presenting patient cases as their instructional method. So accustomed to the passive learner role, they initially see less value in learning by thinking about individual patients. Why is it then that while on clinical rotations, students will then say they “learn more in their fourth year of school than all the others?” While this statement is unnecessarily oversimplified, it does exemplify the newfound realization that learning through an actual patient’s life situation has a fantastic reinforcement effect for old or new knowledge. Suddenly medical literature and clinical trials come alive because of their application to someone real. I have attempted to integrate the problem-based approach into all levels of my teaching. Aside from rotations that are inherently problem-based, I incorporate a problem-based, case-based approach into my on-campus teaching, from the smaller ambulatory care and cardiovascular electives, to the large class sessions such as in diabetes therapeutics. My most enjoyable didactic sessions have been ones where I conducted virtually the entire one or two hours based on discussions about various cases, with very few slides or lecture-style material.
Evaluation of learners is best when based on their personal improvement. The evaluation of students is critical but sometimes difficult role of the teacher. It is certainly pleasurable to have a well-performing student about whom seemingly very little needs to be criticized or improved, and challenging to evaluate a poorly performing student, particularly in the subjective, one-on-one environment of rotations. Nevertheless, in either case it is important for the good teacher to help the student reach a higher level than that in which they started. If an excellent student has minor areas to improve, and a poor student has major areas, yet both recognize this and try hard, I will be encouraged by the effort of either. Of course, students who are completely unknowledgeable and potentially dangerous should be identified and prevented from advancing before becoming a danger to society. However, in my experience, consistent with my philosophy of beneficence, I find that average or below-average students who try hard can generally overcome their weaknesses and shortcomings and achieve an acceptable level of performance. While their performance may remain lower than that of a stellar student, their effort deserves recognition or reward. Encouraging their effort will have the greater and lasting result of inspiring them to try harder in future experiences.
Always strive to become a better teacher. While I have been a teacher now for several years, I still consider myself a learner in the methods of education. I know areas where my teaching style needs improvement and I continuously look for opportunities to improve myself. To do so, I have taken the time over the years to carefully observe the teaching strategies, organization, and presentations of other instructors, professors, and preceptors. I have tried to emulate some of these approaches to enhance my own skills. I also honestly probe students for suggestions on improving my teaching style or the learning environment I establish, and listen sincerely to their advice. I have attended several formal sessions on instructional teaching methods and I plan identify more resources to formally learn about teaching methods such as offerings from the Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC and other instructional sessions that may be offered at professional conferences. As a life-long teacher, I realize that I am also a life-long learner as well, and can always use constructive feedback on ways to improve my approach to teaching students or residents.
As Richard Bach said, “Learning is finding out what we already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. [We] are all learners, doers and teachers.” Teaching has been a highly fulfilling pursuit in my professional career and I look forward each day to the opportunities and challenges for the next chance to teach a rising professional. Maintaining high quality teaching standards takes a great deal of effort in the classroom and on rotations, but the payoff is quite satisfying. I truly enjoy being a teacher.
Aimee Strang, Pharm. D.: Teaching Philosophy (FINAL DRAFT 1995)
If students are correlated to cooks, then the learning process compares to cooking. A batch of “Successful Learning at ACP” requires (1) quality ingredients, (2) a good recipe and (3) motivation to create a ‘tasty’ product. Quality ingredients represent faculty who are knowledgeable, can teach well and explain complicated concepts and principles in context. The recipe is the medium that transfers information from teacher to student to facilitate learning, such as practical lectures and thought provoking assignments. The last part, student motivation to learn, is the most important. The cook that lacks motivation will produce mediocre dishes and not improve, improvise or create beyond the base recipe. Motivation separates the short-order cooks from the Emeril Lagasses. Motivation separates the memorizers from the learners. Motivation, in a college environment, is the ingredient that is hardest to provide from a teacher’s perspective.
As a teacher, I have three jobs. First, I must remain a high-quality ingredient. I strive to keep current in the clinical arena, study and use different teaching methods, and attend professional development conferences. I make endeavors to improve in the areas of clinical skills, teaching and service. Just as these areas represent my individuality and how I choose to contribute to the college, these three areas impact how I teach and add to the totality of what I offer students.
My second responsibility is to teach exceptionally well. Creating good lectures and assignments is the most visible part of being a good teacher. Before I create any lecture material, I reflect on what I would like to accomplish and contemplate the practicality from a student perspective. Often, the end result differs from traditional lectures with slides. I incorporate active learning techniques and classroom assignments to facilitate critical thinking and demonstrate principles.
My third job, to create or instill motivation to learn, is the most challenging. I try to produce an environment that generates interest in the topics I teach. When students possess a personal motivator such as interest, they are inspired to learn. Active learning can heighten interest by making the learning environment fun. I use active learning techniques to break up the monotony of lecture and to demonstrate progression and application of principles. I create interest by personalizing what the students are learning. Assignments used only to create work do not motivate students to gain knowledge or excel.
I want students to take a topic or skill and use and apply it in practice to improve patient care. Students who are productive members of the health-care society and feel they have something valuable to offer are confident about their knowledge and skills. I want them to be continually motivated to improve. I want them to be the Emeril Lagasses of the Pharmacy world.
Teaching and Learning Philosophy for Eric Hobson, Ph.D. (South University)
I have four goals as an educator: establish a pattern of lifelong intellectual curiosity, a commitment to rational thought, a sense of service to others, and a belief in continuous self-assessment and reflection. Helping students develop these abilities and attitudes as part of their engagement with specific bodies of disciplinary knowledge and inquiry is the challenge I face as a teacher. To be as successful as I demand that I be, I have to do the following:
- remain current in my areas of expertise (rhetoric & composition; active learning; outcomes assessment; faculty development),
- expand my areas of interest and expertise as part of my personal and professional growth (abilities based education; curricular design and assessment),
- model an evidence-based approach to teaching (employ “best practices” as a teacher; explore the literature to stay current on emerging pedagogical findings; mentor students and faculty as they develop a similar standard of practice),
- engage others (students, faculty, community members) as equals in the learning process, and provide each person with whom I work as much of an individuated learning experience as possible within acknowledged restraints, and
- continuously assess my preconceptions and biases about teaching and learning (maintain a ‘teaching portfolio; engage in “classroom assessment”; practice the “scholarship of teaching”; keep up with relevant research across disciplines.)
My goal for myself and my students (in whatever guise) is to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to achieve the level of professional practice described by Donald Schon as “reflective practice.”
My approach to most aspects in my professional life has tried to adhere to the guidelines described above. As a teacher I am committed to challenging students to reach their maximum potential as educated and well-rounded individuals. I most often choose to teach students in the earlier years of the college experience. As such, I must accept them as they are when they arrive in my courses, and provide them an learning environment (even if limited to 15 weeks) that helps them develop the knowledge, skills, and, most important, the attitudes necessary for academic and general success. I believe in extensive faculty-student and peer interaction, using a range of active- and collaborative-learning strategies and frequent individual conferences to highlight the social domains that underlie knowledge and learning. When possible I strive to include students in the professional conversation by including them in my research activities. When pressed, I readily acknowledge that my concern for each student is in gauging the development of their attitudes toward learning and their self-confidence as learners. This should be a priority goal for all teachers.
My research supports this professional standard of practice. From the outset I have explored questions related to issues of instructional “best practice” and have tested claims about educational effectiveness, including my own claims and assumptions. This inquiry path has led me to discover and learn much about the role of motivation in learning, benefits of instructional variety, interconnection of general and professional educational outcomes, and effective mixes of formative and summative assessment techniques. All of these activities have been routed back into my teaching and my training of other college-level faculty. There is no greater service that I can provide my community than to teach within an evidence-based standard of practice. Doing so requires that I continue to push myself to learn more and more widely, to question assumptions and claims with vigilance, and to carry out inquiry that yields results that others can use. Taken together, this is the challenge that keeps teaching a personally rewarding and enjoyable area of intellectual and interpersonal activity.