Teaching Philosophy and Objectives
My mother was a beloved public school teacher and so growing up I always understood that teachers were not alien beings sent to inflict misery on students but instead were educated professionals who were passionate about doing a difficult job. This understanding helped me as a student because I had seen ‘behind the curtain’ and could navigate the educational environment in a way that made me both a more engaged and more successful student. I grew to love school as a social, educational, and cultural space where each unique person was challenged both intellectually and socially in ways that, when everything worked, made them stronger and more capable moving forward. I grew tremendously in that space and the fact that I am now able to create those learning and growing spaces for UT-Dallas students continues to excite me every day.
My teaching philosophy is pretty simple: 1) BE USEFUL to students by pushing them to develop the skills, habits, and attitudes that they will need to be successful after they stop being students, and 2) PUSH students to understand that their professional and personal value in the world comes from their whole self, and not primarily from any technical set of skills. This approach holds whether I am teaching first-year college students, graduating seniors, MBAs with twenty years of corporate experience, or PhD students. School is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. I see my role as similar to that of a strength coach helping students to develop the fitness they will need in order to achieve whatever professional and personal ends they seek after graduation.
And yet, by the time they get to college, most students have come to feel that school IS the end in itself. They think that sitting in class, cramming for exams, filling in the correct dot on a Scantron form, and caring only about their GPA are their most important responsibilities. This is unfortunate but entirely understandable since it is that attitude that has in many ways enabled them to become successful students. College students have spent the vast majority of their lives as students but the day is fast approaching when they will STOP being students and have to become something else. Helping/Forcing students to unlearn the passive, ‘do as little as possible to get the grade’ attitude is one of the primary goals/joys of my teaching. To do this, I de-emphasize grades, give no exams, and push students to come to grips with the fact that it is their ability to write clearly, speak well, and work with others in an uncertain environment that will define what they do with their ‘post-student’ life.
I am fortunate that my attitude and approach to teaching and my objectives for my teaching coincide perfectly with the material I am teaching. The best business communication educators consistently operate on both the level of skill development (teaching students to become more effective business writers, speakers, collaborators, listeners, etc.) and of attitude (evangelizing these skills to students and helping them understand the potentially life-changing place and value of these skills in any organization.
This dual focus enables me to do two very useful things for students.
First, it enables me to bring the professional world into my classroom. Unlike material covered in most college courses, millions of people all around the world are daily talking about, thinking through, debating, and struggling with question of business communication. How do I put together a presentation for investors who have already lost money? How do I tell my boss bad news? Do I close emails with ‘Sincerely,’ or is that too old-fashioned? These conversations can be found in blogs, news stories, tv shows, studies, etc. etc. and I put them in front of students constantly through the semester. This help students invest more not only in the course but in the idea that, apart from the course, this stuff actually matters for their ability to make their way in the professional world once they stop being students.
The second thing a dual focus does is enable me to pull my students out of the classroom and into the world. I do this by constructing all my assignments as either real world stories that students put themselves into and act accordingly OR as excursions out into the world to expand their networks and put into practice the skills we learn about and begin developing in class. In this way, my classroom is kind of like ‘base’ in a kid’s game, a place we go to periodically in order to recharge, share experiences, learn new things, and try new things before going back out into the world to apply and extend what we learned in the classroom. My role is to keep ‘base’ a positive and encouraging yet challenging place where students focus less on ‘getting the grade’ and primarily on actual improvement and achievement.