As an African American male professor at a large (predominately white) urban university, I am fully aware that to many students of color—especially African Americans—I am more than a professor. I am also a role model and a symbol of what others can do and become. While I do not seek this, I do understand that it is a reality and therefore, I owe it to others to serve faithfully in this call. This is why my teaching philosophy starts with the belief that all students are teachable and all students can learn. I come to the teaching situation expecting students not only to do well but also to enjoy the learning experience. While this does not happen all the time, I never stop believing this foundational premise. I find it makes me a better teacher when I think students are teachable and they want to learn. It forces me to spend time preparing classes and making sure that I am giving my best to students.
What I have found helpful is to start early in the class prep process. Starting early with class prep helps me in two significant ways. First, class prep forces me to stay current on recent scholarship in the field. Class prep also does something else—it helps to establish my professor persona in the classroom. One of the things I like to do in the first class when I go over the syllabus and explain the reasoning behind the assignments. The explanation also extends to the reason why we are reading this article or that book and doing this or that project. I do this because I want to establish a credible persona/ethos with my students because (2) as research demonstrates, being a teacher of color; students do not automatically afford me “teacher status” just because I am the “assigned” teacher. However, as Hendrix argues, having “information” or “knowledge” is not enough to gain credibility. A “credible professor” not only “possesses knowledge” but also “shares that knowledge with others in a respectful, challenging and fun way” (257). In short, it is important how I communicate this knowledge to students. It also helps in establishing the classroom as a space conducive for learning.
I recognize that one pedagogical method does not aptly fit all students. Therefore, I am a proponent of multiple teaching models. I see the benefit in a variety of models such as the lecture, small group discussion, reflection papers, journaling, and the like. I also like to incorporate visual media into the classroom to facilitate a thought-provoking conversation. Also, I am also a proponent of the use of social media and online learning. It is my aim not only to teach theories, methods, and overall scholarship of the discipline but also to help students discover the practical application of those theories and practices.
Drawing from the work of Parker Palmer (2007), I believe that good teaching is more than having proper “technique.” Good teaching finds its habitation in the “identity and integrity” of the teacher. In short, I am at my best when I understand who I am in relation to the students and subjects I teach. It not only opens me up to all that makes me who I am, but this approach also grounds me in the humility that allows the classroom to become a holistic space of co-creating, co-meaning, and co-learning. Therefore, since I want to and highly encourage students to feel comfortable expressing their ideas, thoughts, opinions, and feelings, I try to develop assignments and activities that promote dialogue, creativity, and critical thinking. To meet these goals and objectives, I must not only continually revise and update my course objectives and content but also allow myself to be open and create an environment conducive to learning. This is my aim. This is my hope. This is how I teach.
Hendrix, Katherine. G. (1997). Student Perceptions of Verbal and Nonverbal Cues Leading to Images of Black and White Professor Credibility. Howard Journal of Communications. Vol. 8 Issue 3, p 251-273.
Hendrix, Katherine. G. (2004). Student Perceptions of the Influence of Race on Professor Credibility. In R. L. Jackson (Ed.), African American communication and identities: Essential readings (pp. 237-248). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Palmer, Parker. (2007). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, 10th Anniversary Edition 2nd Edition. Jossey-Bass; 2 edition (2007)
White, Shauntae Brown. (2012). 'Talking Back': The Danger of Silence and the Risk of Speaking in Black and White. Women & Language. Vol. 35 Issue 2, p 95-98.
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