I have a web page for every course that I teach. On that page you can access my lecture notes, slides, and audiotapes. Click on a link to the left to access the course you want.
I believe that my role as a teacher is to use the course content and my teaching methods to help students learn to critically evaluate the world around them. They should learn not only the material relevant to the course, but also analytical skills that will stay with them throughout their lives. In political science students can immediately apply what they learn to understand local, national, and international political events. This direct application of knowledge is why I became interested in studying politics. And it is my passion for politics that I believe inspires me to show my students how to take the material they learn and use it to better understand the political world, both now and in the years to come. Over the course of my experiences as both a student and a teacher, I have identified five qualities about teaching that help ensure that students both master the material and practice using life-long learning skills.
First, teachers should always be well organized. It is vital that students be able to raise questions, either to gain clarity about material they do not understand, or to draw out implications that I might not have discussed. However, a series of well-intentioned questions can quickly muddle a course presentation and push the instructor far off course if that instructor does not have a clear conception of the material to be covered and a strong sense of why that material is important. I also cover material in a logical order. This ensures that the knowledge my students gain from earlier topics will help them understand newer topics. At the beginning of each class, I outline the main themes or questions that will be addressed. This assists students in their note taking and their thinking about that class. The most important characteristic of a well-organized presentation is that the basic information and definitions be conveyed before moving on to more advanced concepts. If students are exposed to advanced concepts without fully grasping more foundational information, they will find it difficult to understand the material or use it to make good critical assessments.
Second, teachers should be comfortable using a variety of methods to present material. Students learn in a number of different ways including visually, audibly, and kinesthetically. Therefore, I use different presentational styles when teaching my classes. For visual learners, I use PowerPoint, graphs, charts, pictures and cartoons. For audible learners, I use audiotapes, roundtable discussions, and debates. And for kinesthetic learners I use group activities and simulations. I believe it is very important to make classes as conducive to learning as possible for different types of learners.
Third, teachers should continuously evaluate their own performance in the classroom. There are always new things to learn about teaching, but you cannot learn them in a vacuum. So I ask my students for questions during class and for electronic feedback after class. In this way, I can evaluate the extent to which the way I taught a specific topic was effective in achieving my purposes for that class.
Fourth, teachers should be enthusiastic about their profession. A monotone voice and bored appearance will kill any student’s interest in a subject – why should they be interested if the instructor is not? And I absolutely love to teach! It is this passion for teaching and for the subject matter that makes me want to become a better teacher for my students. Research has shown that extensive preparation is one common characteristic of great teachers. I therefore spend as much time as possible preparing for my classes. I strive to find the best way to present the material and understand the material as best I can so that I can communicate the material to my students.
Finally, teachers should encourage students regularly to use their critical thinking skills. Just as a baseball player cannot learn to be a good hitter without spending time in the batting cage, so too students cannot develop their critical thinking skills without practice. In every class, I ask at least two to three discussion questions that challenge the students to use the information just presented and apply it to answering difficult questions. I also use forums on the internet to foster discussion, which provides every student the opportunity to participate. Furthermore, I have my students write at least one paper during the semester that requires them to use higher level thinking in their writing.
Through my preparation, ongoing evaluation of my performance, flexibility in the use of different teaching presentations, and organization, I believe I create a productive learning environment for my students. And at the end of the semester, the students will have learned about an important topic and had many opportunities to practice the skill of life-long learning.