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Teaching Statement│Nikhil Deb
Although it seems trite to say that teaching is more than a profession, it is, in fact, an art and skill that requires passion, integrity, and commitment. There are many reasons why I love and care about teaching as the most valuable career. Yet I do not believe that teaching is something innate, rather I consider teaching a skill to be learned. This learning does not happen without effort. When I think about teaching and learning, I strive to answer two related questions: how does learning take place? and what constitutes an inclusive, as well as dynamic, teaching and learning environment? My response to these questions is largely shaped by my background, both in Bangladesh and in the United States, as a teacher of courses ranging from Introduction to Sociology to Globalization and Justice to Environment and Society to Sociological Theory to Social Movements.
First, my teaching philosophy is based on the key assumption that teaching/learning is not a one-way flow from teacher to students. Instead, it primarily depends on the collaborative efforts of everyone involved. Many recent sociological studies of how learning works point to the fact that a portion of student success may be attributable to factors innate to the student; however, another portion is due largely to outside influences. To me, teaching is one of the most significant of the outside influences. It becomes obvious when I reflect upon my academic journey as a student because my educational bearing has been mostly influenced by how I have been inspired by my teachers’ devotion to their craft. Additionally, I believe that the best I can do as an educator is to inspire my students to meet their fullest potential as human beings and in their areas of interest. Moreover, teaching is not to show off my scholarship on the specific subject, instead it provides a fair opportunity for continual learning and growth, both for the students and for me.
Second, one of the main reasons I want to pursue a career in academia is that I could work with future generations of social scientists. Teaching is, again, a learning opportunity for me. I believe that the best learning comes out of an inclusive and student-centered approach. For this reason, to foster a more stimulating and exciting learning atmosphere, I facilitate a classroom environment that promotes both social and intellectual diversity, accommodating a diverse body of students and crafting a variety of discussion and assignment questions. Understanding social diversity is both a pedagogical and sociological imperative to me because each student, as Bourdieu (1977) would imply, enters the classroom with a different kind of preparation and background knowledge.
To promote intellectual diversity through discussion in the classroom, I follow what Brookfield (1990) states: “guided discussion is a self-negating concept if it means guiding talk toward a particular position or point of consciousness. When it happens, it means that certain perspectives and information have been excluded at the outset.” This ‘counterfeit’ approach is a pedagogic subterfuge because it is antithetical to the full potential of learning. I, therefore, love to shift the focus of activity from me to the students. Ensuring that my teaching technique does not curtail students’ democratic rights and creative and imaginative impulse is my foremost concern in pedagogy.
Third, in addition to an inclusive classroom, I always believe that students are entitled to quality instruction in an active and critical learning environment. Thus, as an instructor I strive to provide an adequate learning atmosphere for students. To me, the most effective type of teaching is not the one that relies only on serious reading, but the one that also analytically engages with learning. I keep in mind that learning is not something imposed on students; it is something students should be capable of doing. In order to cultivate the habit of critical inquiry, I encourage students to consider the alternatives to any given situation. The main objective of this technique is to foster the normal trajectory of the thought pattern so that students go beyond their general way of thinking to a more concrete and diverse perspective through rigorous brainstorming. It illustrates the reflexive monitoring of the learning process which helps students in practicing what Zull (2002) calls “searching for connections.” For instance, I let one student’s view to be followed by a counter-view which eventually paves the possibility for a new perspective for the class to think about. To maximize the desired outcomes from this dialogic learning process, I always remind my students that we also need to develop a mindset that supports a friendly and respectful learning environment.
Fourth, like other pedagogy scholars, I embrace this assertion that students are always approving of critical thinking insofar as they are encouraged to believe that critical thinking is a productive and progressive activity. To bring this activity to the real world and to ensure an enjoyable learning environment, I use visual aids, charts and diagrams, and a general-to-specific teaching approach when necessary. Besides, I think that it is my responsibility as a teacher to prepare my students for the job market, which requires strong communicative skills. To help them hone these skills, I give my students both writing and oral assignments.
Finally, I consider it my privilege to use teaching as an opportunity for bringing lasting benefits to society. To realize this benefit, I never cease evaluating myself in the classroom. Therefore, at the core of my pedagogical and learning philosophy, I keep myself open to exploring when and how critical, reflexive, and inclusive learning works best. An academic platform, as Weber (1919) states, is neither for the prophet nor for the demagogue. Teaching is a form of learning, and learning is not a product; it is a process.
Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. 2010. How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. John Wiley & Sons.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge university press.
Brookfield, Stephen D. 1990. The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. John Wiley & Sons.
Weber, Max. 1919 . “Science as a Vocation.” Pp. 129-156, in Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Translated and edited by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press.
Zull, James Ellwood. 2002. The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. Stylus Publishing, LLC.
“The prophet and the demagogue do not belong on the academic platform.” —Max Weber (1919)