Teaching Philosophy

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My teaching philosophy could be summarised as the following:
Karl Marx (1925) once wrote: The choice of a profession is a great privilege of a man over the rest of creation, but at that same time it is an act which can destroy his whole life, frustrate all his plans, and make him unhappy … The chief guide which must direct us in the choice of profession is the welfare of mankind and our own perfection. It should not be thought that these two interests could be in conflict, that one would have to destroy the other, on the contrary, man’s nature is so constituted that he can attain his own perfection only by working for the perfection, for the good, of his fellow men. If he works only for himself, he may perhaps become a famous man of learning, a great sage, an excellent poet, but he can never be a perfect, truly great man. This passage captures the essence of my philosophy that we are not alone in this world. I will only be successful in my career if my students are successful. Consequently, I agree with the African adage “If you want to walk fast, walk alone, but if you want to walk far, walk with other people”. In this case the journey is with my students and colleagues.

The world is becoming increasingly competitive and the young need to be better prepared for the time when they ‘enter’ the world and stand on their own. As a teacher I am here to help prepare my students for their careers, not just to impart information. Information alone is not enough for them to be successful. They need to be able to problem solve, multitask and apply their minds to challenges which occur during their journey. Therefore, my teaching philosophy is far more than merely imparting the ‘information’ found in textbooks and journals. Students need to assimilate information in an atmosphere that is conducive to learning so that they know the information is merely a ‘part’ of a larger ‘whole’ and that they should start to internalise this information and act on it, growing in knowledge and effective decision making. Thus, I agree with Fritz Machlup (1983) that one should frown on education programmes that fill the student’s head with loads of information. Rather, one should disseminate knowledge of enduring value and help students develop a thirst for more knowledge, not just information. Machlup posits that, “Information is acquired by being told, whereas knowledge can be acquired by thinking”. This leads me to ask, what is the best way for me to teach? On reflection, the teachers who made an impression on me and made the subject matter come alive as they taught had a good sense of humour.

This conjures up the idea of the lecture hall as a theatre and the podium as the stage, the students the audience and the teacher the actor. Rather than a strict formal environment it should be light-hearted, leavened with wit. However, control is required to ensure that it is a learning environment. The interaction between the actor and the audience is paramount as critical thought, rather than humour, is the outcome of this ‘play’. Additionally, all leaving the theatre should depart with respect for each other and for each other’s views and contributions. Having said this, it is paramount that all parties leaving the theatre have gained an insight into the subject matter and that a consensus is achieved so that the key outcomes of the discussion are clear and concise. In other words, the ‘sage on the stage’ needs to spend more time humanising the pedagogy. Thus, I have realised that being a good teacher not only involves time spent in front of the class, but also careful preparation of the lectures, discussions, practicals, assignments and assessments. Therefore, I believe that for me to be an effective teacher I need to be creative and professional. Teaching is not just reserved for the classroom but includes supervision sessions and follow-up discussions. In conclusion, and referring back to Marx, I believe I have been privileged to find the profession that brings me happiness – working with students, grappling with problems, coming up with ideas (theories) and following them through to a solution. In so doing I am sharing more than information with my students, I hope they taste knowledge and thirst for more.

Marx, K. (1925). Reflections of a young man on the choice of a profession. Published: in Archiv für die Geschichte des Sozialismus und der Arbeiterbewegung, written 1835 in Latin and translated 1925. 
Machlup, F. (1983). Semantic quirks in studies of information. In F. Machlup, U. Mansfield (Eds.). The study of information: Interdisciplinary messages. 641-671. New York: John Wiley & Sons.