Teaching Philosophy

An effective teacher will have an accurate grasp of the nature of his students and thus of human nature in general. Two characteristics are particularly relevant to the teaching enterprise. First, we all have an innate desire for knowledge and a natural tendency to apply our knowledge of the world in creative and beneficial ways. If the teacher can stir up this desire by making the material relevant and within reach, then half of the battle is won. Learning ceases to be a chore and becomes a personal desire. Second, the natural drive to learn is not perfect but is subject to both distraction and laziness. Therefore, the effective teacher must provide structure that reduces the opportunity for distraction and extrinsic motivation that discourages laziness. By accounting for both the positive and negative sides of human nature, the teacher will provide the most compelling environment for true education to take place.

The effective teacher must also be well-informed about his subject. This comes from disciplined study of the subject as well as creative activity in the subject area. Fundamental research is one avenue for this creative activity. Research stimulates the teacher to view his subject from many angles and also compels him to understand the limitations of the current level of knowledge. Furthermore, it fuels enthusiasm for the subject area and excitement about the prospect of knowledge being beneficially employed by his students.

New material should not be presented in a vacuum. The effective teacher will provide a context for new material, showing how it connects with his students' previous knowledge or experience. This will help the students see their discipline (and the world!) as a systematic whole rather than as a collection of disjointed pieces. Furthermore, a logical presentation of material that builds on the known to motivate the unknown will help students develop in their ability to think logically and to address problems systematically.

Despite the best intentions and methods, the most effective teacher in the world cannot teach without students who are willing and able. Students must have some capability in the subject area, and the teacher can play an important role in helping them discover whether they have this capability. Furthermore, students must approach learning not as a passive activity but as a process in which they actively engage. When both teacher and student are committed to their roles, both experience the tremendous satisfaction of true education taking place.

This philosophy is intimately tied together with my overall personal philosophy and my philosophy of work.