My Teaching Philosophy

I have a true passion for teaching, and it is my strong belief that the humanities are indispensable in providing undergraduates important tools to understand the world and to actively engage in society. While the ideas I’ve outlined here represent my current approaches to pedagogy more generally, these guidelines are flexible enough to allow me considerable leeway in how they are implemented in specific classrooms, and with specific students.

What to teach

When thinking about the skills I want students to acquire or the learning outcomes I want them to achieve, I tend to divide these into “the three Cs”:

  • Curation: Knowledge curation concerns effectively synthesizing knowledge and presenting it in a professional way that forwards an argument. In my courses, I focus on teaching students to organize and systematize information, to integrate different sources, to formulate a coherent argument, to understand the audience for a particular work, and to communicate effectively in written and oral formats. Some typical assignments include lit reviews, papers focusing on analysis of sources from various points of view, audio-visual documentaries, oral presentations, and Wikipedia entries.
  • Creation: The creation of new knowledge is the most advanced of the three skill sets, building on the preceding two. Specific learning outcomes I emphasize in this area include understanding how new sources of information support and/or challenge existing knowledge structures, and effectively expressing new contributions in ways that are appropriate to a particular field. Assignments usually take the form of research papers, but I also have used posters, oral presentations, digital media, screenplays, and other alternative formats.

How to teach

My teaching methods have been influenced by several key experiences in my professional development. The first was my year as an instructor in the expository writing program at Johns Hopkins, which taught me the Harvard “Expos” pedagogical method. The second was my year-long fellowship at LeMoyne College, where I encountered the Jesuit philosophy of cura personalis (educating the whole person) and the method of “learning contracts.” Finally, my time at Abington College, a minority-majority institution with an extremely diverse student body, has also challenged me to expand and refine my teaching methods with an eye toward equity and inclusion. To consolidate what I have learned from these experiences, my use of particular teaching methods in the classroom is guided by my commitment to three overarching values, which I call “the three As”:

  • Agency: At its core, agency means treating students like individuals and placing their needs at the center of the educational experience. I am constantly experimenting with pedagogical strategies that promote student choice and that incentivize creative individualized engagement with the course material. While there are many examples I have employed in the past, I will mention two of my perennial favorites. For a long time, most of my lower-level courses have included a menu of options for how students can demonstrate achievement — from traditional exams and papers to oral presentations, book reviews, cultural projects, fieldwork, and other activities that encourage experimentation. Meanwhile, in my upper-level courses, I continue to use learning contracts to encourage students to take responsibility for directing their educational experience, managing their time, and meeting the goals they set.
  • Attention: Even when they exemplify the best in terms of accessibility and student agency, educational experiences can still fall flat if the professor is not engaged and involved. Good education cannot be automated, outsourced, or supersized (MOOCs, for example) because the role of an educator involves much more than simply imparting information that students consume. If we wish them to learn to be effective curators and creators of knowledge, students need personalized attention to their individual academic strengths and weaknesses. Key to cultivating an engaged student-centered pedagogy is an open feedback loop between students and faculty, and a willingness to modulate methods and expectations mid-flow. A willingness to provide mentorship both in and outside the classroom is also critical, especially for minority and first-generation college students who may lack professional role models.

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Seeking larger perspectives that balance being an academic with being human. By scholar of Asian medicine and Buddhism, Pierce Salguero (piercesalguero.com).

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