Teaching is a way of living. Like photography, it involves recognizing potential and developing a latent image into something wonderful to behold. Like gardening, it requires persistence, patience, a sense of wonder, and a willingness to let the learners grow at their own pace and in their own way. Like beekeeping, the work can be hard and tiring, having occasional stings, but the rewards can be sweet indeed.
As I rapidly close in on a quarter of a century at Mt. St. Joseph I can look back at the many changes. The college and learners have both changed. The traditional teacher-centered classrooms are being replaced with student-centered learning. I have always been a hands-on constructivist teaching within an ill-defined discipline. In art there are many possible correct answers to an assigned problem, and there may be few if any incorrect answers. For some learners, especially the freshman and sophomores, this is not what they expect from the world. Teaching involves creating a comfortable space where learning can occur. It means finding the learners at their present level, exposing them to an amazing world, letting them explore and learn, and watching them continue on a lifelong path of learning.
Teaching is focused on the success of the learner. My approach to teaching is similar to that of the sherpa guides of Mount Everest. The sherpa guide takes a supporting role in order to make it possible for the climbers to reach their lofty goals. No matter how many times one goes up and down the mountain a good sherpa will always remember that each learner is climbing that path to the summit for the very first time. It can be difficult to watch a learner struggle, but it is not the role of the sherpa to carry the climber on his back to the summit. To do so would ruin the sense of achievement for the climber. Each learner must take individual risks, make their own choices, and leave their own footprints. The sherpa is there for support, guidance, and modeling but the life changing experience belongs to the climber.
In many ways a teacher is a business manager. Bringing that class in on time, within budget, and with happy customers is as important to education as it is to a business. Teachers should know how to manage human resources and how to deal with crisis situations. Teacher-managers need to be accessible and flexible. Good teacher-managers are good listeners and are sensitive to individual differences and individual needs. They know how to get the best performance from the individual learners.
I couldn’t finish my teaching philosophy without writing about the enormous impact that technology has had, and will continue to have, on education. Technology and internet use has dramatically changed an individual’s access to information and influence from around the globe. It is now possible to access unfathomable quantities of information at unimaginable speeds at little to no cost. The $49 textbook I use for Adobe PhotoShop CS is now available online as a free .pdf download from Adobe Press. Many honored educational traditions are beginning to erode and they may soon become irrelevant. Access to information has become 24/7. Choices in time, location, and delivery are expanding. Learners can switch information sources as easily as switching channels. In many ways higher education has become a buyer’s market.
Technological change was the primary reason I decided to follow the path to the M.Ed. in Instructional Technology and Online Learning. I decided to experience the absolute latest in technology from both the student and teacher sides of the screen. This experience has changed the way I will teach in the future. Not every course is a good candidate for technological intervention but higher education is evolving and it is the teacher’s duty to keep abreast of the latest changes and to use the latest tools where appropriate to the needs of the learners.