Statement on Teaching
Ranae Stetson, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Education
Relationships Come First—Working With And Mentoring Students
I believe that being an effective teacher is my most important responsibility at TCU! I spend a significant amount of time at the beginning of the semester getting to know my new students quickly and personally by learning their names and something about them. I greet students by name as they come in and interact with them briefly about events in their daily lives. For example, recently I had a student whose younger brother had a severe head injury and was hospitalized for a couple of weeks. His recovery has been slow but steady and she provides regular updates for me about his progress. Had I not had taken the time to get to know her at the beginning of the semester I may have missed the stress she was obviously experiencing about this issue. With some extra time given for mentoring her one-on-one, she was able to stay on top of the content and stay in the course. Not every student has a trauma to deal with nor requires extra time and attention but when it is necessary, I’m pleased that I can be the type of professor that students can approach when help and encouragement are needed. Please don’t take this to mean that I have no rigor or standards for learning the course content. On the contrary, because working with students one-on-one builds strong, positive relationships, I have found they work harder and seem to retain the content better. Students understand that grades are earned, not awarded. Yet, I fully realize that students may only remember some of the content presented to them, but they will have very vivid and clear memories about how they were treated while in our care.
I strive to teach in a way that my students will become competent in three important aspects of effective teaching: (1) they have adequate content knowledge, (2) they know about effective teaching practices, and (3) they develop the interpersonal skills necessary to support the children’s need for a psychologically safe and inviting environment in which to learn. Because most of the courses I teach are among the first taken in education, the content is almost always new and sometimes difficult for students. Therefore, I spend a great deal of time preparing for my classes by updating my course materials each semester, integrating technological applications whenever possible, and developing instructional materials based on current research. For example, over the past 10 years there has been a plethora of research about the human brain from birth to three years of age. I stay current with this research and how this information will impact how children learn and develop. My goal is to present concepts in a way that will challenge my students to understand and internalize what they are expected to learn. I accomplish this by utilizing a variety of instructional strategies that engages students’ and requires their active participation in the learning process.
An example of learning complex information is illustrated in my child and adolescent development course where students are placed in dyads and use play dough to recreate the 23 pairs of chromosomes. They learn how some chromosomal abnormalities may be manifested in the students’ they will be teaching, such as children with Down’s Syndrome and what they can do to maximize the learning potential of all students.
I also expect my students to demonstrate competence by connecting theory with practice in relevant field and practicum assignments. Currently my early childhood students are doing a weekly practicum in two nationally accredited private schools. This requires my personal mentoring and weekly supervision of their work in these classrooms where they see the best teachers modeling the best practices known to us at this time. By being in the field with them I can point out what their cooperating teachers are doing, why they are making the decisions they are making, classroom management issues, and other aspects of teaching and learning that aren’t possible to see in our university class. While this field component requires a great deal of my time and one-on-one involvement with the students, I think it is an invaluable way of challenging them to become masterful in the art and science of teaching right from the day they graduate from our program.
I use a variety of assessment strategies in my courses including: scheduled, periodic exams throughout the semester (both objective and essay), research reports, literacy projects, case studies, in-depth observation reports, technological applications, and development of instructional units. These multiple lines of evidence provide not only an array of student artifacts from which grades are derived, but a variety of avenues and learning styles through which they are able to demonstrate their competence. The strong personal connections I make with students may encourage them to learn, but it must be constantly balanced with the respectful distance required to honestly evaluate their academic efforts.
My overall S.P.O.T. scores are excellent. Although the numeric student ratings certainly give me a lot of encouragement that I am doing an effective job in teaching; the written comments , unsolicited emails, notes, and cards from students thanking me for caring about them and their experiences are my best sources of student feedback. They are usually very complimentary about my teaching effectiveness, content knowledge, enthusiasm, motivation, and high expectations. Some recent examples of student comments include:
“Dr. Stetson is very clear when teaching the material. She makes it interesting and teaches you how to apply it to the classroom.”
“I want to be Dr. Stetson when I grow up!”
“She really cared that we were in class and that encouraged me to go regularly.”
“She has such a cheery disposition and is so personable that you’d feel guilty if you didn’t show up every class.”
“There were many different ways to demonstrate knowledge if you didn’t test well. I loved the demonstrations, videos, and field experiences.”
“More effort was put into this class than I imagined possible. But it was very enjoyable and useful.”
“Dr. Stetson used many different ways of teaching which held my attention. She keeps the class interesting and fun but still teaches us what we need to know.”
“I learned more in this class than I have in any other.”
Statement on Teaching
Professor of Radio-TV-Film
“It’s a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought,
That if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”
Anna Leonowens — The King and I
All right, I know. This is a corny way for a professor to begin an essay on teaching philosophy. But most students whom I’ve taught, or have attempted to teach, over the years would probably agree that some of my deepest convictions are rooted in the thoughts and emotions expressed by the impassioned heroes of the American musical stage. When it comes to adhering to my faith, I take inspiration from Tevye’s views on “Tradition.” In addressing the pursuit of seemingly unattainable goals, I encourage my students — and myself — to dream Don Quixote’s “Impossible Dream.” And as a teacher, I’ve grown to concur strongly with Anna Leonowen’s paean to her students, that the greatest joy of teaching comes from “getting to know you.” For in getting to know my students, I have “gotten to know” more about courage, character, dignity and perseverance than I ever thought possible. More importantly, I have discovered that in “getting to know all about” my students as individuals, I am better able to advise, guide, support and encourage them as they experience college and prepare to take on the subsequent challenges they will face in their careers and in their lives.
The seeds of my philosophy on teaching were likely planted well before I chose teaching as my primary profession. Having spent eight years in Hollywood before coming to TCU, I had worked my way up the ranks of the entertainment industry as a writer for daytime drama. As the years went by, I became increasingly shocked by two things: 1) the lack of interest most experienced professionals had in sharing the life lessons they had learned with industry newcomers; 2) the lack of preparation graduates of Communications departments had received from their college experiences. I also began to look back on my own undergraduate years and realize the multitude of opportunities I’d squandered by not getting to know my professors nor demanding they get to know me, my interests and my goals. Eventually I realized that I would gain a great deal of satisfaction — both personally and professionally — by working directly with undergraduates, helping them develop confidence in their own potential for success, and to prepare them for some of the complex realities they’d face when they left college.
As the years have progressed and I’ve seen several generations of students come and go, I have made several key observations that have helped me to better mentor, guide and encourage students. Among the most significant of these observations, I now realize that an effective teacher must:
- Help students recognize the value and importance of their individual dreams and goals, so they can focus on acquiring the tools to achieve them. A teacher should encourage students to realize they have the right to pursue their own path in life, rather than strive to fulfill the expectations of others.
- Awaken students to the lessons that present themselves in failures as well as successes. We are too often embarrassed when our objectives are not met. Teachers can help students see that when things don’t work out can be the best time to learn how to achieve successful results in the future.
- Make sure students are aware of their strengths. It’s too easy to take for granted the things we’re good at.
- Help students acknowledge their weaknesses. Some weaknesses can be strengthened with appropriate effort. But in some instances, an honest awareness of one’s own weaknesses can help a student avoid future pitfalls by knowing when it’s time to seek assistance — and where to get it.
- Convey that in a pressured professional setting, when you are ultimately responsible for something, no excuses are acceptable. If it is your responsibility to get a job done, then it must get done. Period.
- Assure students that any feeling they have is acceptable — but how they act on that feeling must be mature and helpful.
- Keep his/her door open as often as possible.
- Respond to students with the empathy of a mentor, but at the same time let them know that future bosses and “other strangers” may be less understanding
- Maintain a sense of perspective…and a sense of humor.
- Be honest about one’s own successes and failures. Since a teacher is inevitably going to be a role model, it’s vital to be seen as human and fallible.
- Help students to realize that life is rarely fair or logical. You can do everything right in theory…and still fall short in practice.
- Encourage students to give more weight to self-assessment than to external assessment and rewards.
- Help students learn to be self critical without tearing one’s self to shreds.
- Let them know you care.
- Set an example in the choices you make and in the way you live.
- Provide learning experiences where students will feel like they are in a “real-life” work environment, but with less dire consequences. That way they can learn by doing…
- Keep up with students after they graduate. They may continue to need your advice and help. And there is little doubt you will need theirs.
- Remind them of how great they are every once in a while.
- Solve problems with students, rather than for them.
- Let them know it’s okay to have fun — just know when it’s appropriate.
- Demonstrate that as long as you care about something, you must never give up on it.
I must add that, after more than 13 years of teaching, these concepts are not random observations, but based on concrete experiences I have had with students. One instance that comes to mind occurred a few years ago. I had developed a class, in which students would write, direct and produce their own soap opera. The class consisted of 11 students, but the demands of the project were so overwhelming, nearly half the class refused to put in the extra hours necessary to create an effective final product. “It’s only a class,” they claimed.
The other members of the class, however, were determined to create a television show that would bring their dream and vision to life. And so these six individuals carried virtually the entire weight of the project. Every evening when I would leave for home, I’d find them in the studio, building sets, painting flats, rehearsing scenes, plotting future episodes, etc. Yes, they occasionally complained about carrying the entire project. Yet they were there each evening, pouring their hearts and souls into the show.
One night, when I made my usual stop by the studio to say good night, I watched them for a moment…and was awed by the camaraderie they shared. Then I told them how much I envied them. Because the bond they were sharing was as rare and intoxicating as any they would experience in their careers. By working as a team toward a single goal, these six students were learning one of the most important lessons I can teach: that success is not measured by individual achievement as much as it is by the product of the group as a whole. There are always going to be obstacles to success, good excuses for not getting the job done. But those who care enough to work in spite of those excuses, who find creative ways to overcome obstacles, are the people who will work and — more importantly — enjoy their work.
Perhaps this footnote is not necessary to make my point, but of the six students in the studio that night, three are now in Los Angeles working in top industry jobs. A fourth left her high-profile Hollywood job and formed a production company to produce and direct her own script. The fifth student is pursuing an acting career in L.A., and the sixth is an executive with a major TV station in Houston.
But alas, in the end, a teacher cannot guarantee you a career or a job. For all our best intentions, the true “outcomes” of education are in the hands of the students. So what is the teacher’s role? For me it is about helping students learn to believe in themselves, sharing strategies for survival and success in the so-called real world, and letting students know they are capable of thriving in that world. I believe that these types of lessons transcend majors, fields and disciplines. Thus, is it the ultimate compliment when a former student reports that the things they learned from working with me have helped them to achieve success and happiness in aspects of life having nothing to do with my personal field of expertise.
Statement on Teaching
Dr. Darren J. N. Middleton
Department of Religion
As a professor of religion and literature, I teach because I believe that it is part of being human to ask questions about our existence: Who am I? What is it in me that causes me to be alive? How should we live? Who or what are we after death? Is the source of all truth and reality in a higher realm of meaning? Throughout our history there have appeared celebrated teachers who have helped women and men to try to answer these and other questions of life. From theirs and other teachings the religions of the world have evolved. These teachings and these religions have inspired numberless people to search and discover meaning and purpose in their lives and continue to do so today. I teach religion, then, because I am passionately concerned about the questions that different religions ask, and the answers they try to give, and because I am eager to help others identify and respond independently to questions about the fundamental meaning of life and link such questions to religious studies.
I teach religion with two basic goals in mind. My first goal is to introduce students to a multicultural history of religious questions and answers. I do this by exposing them to a challenging variety of “voices” from the past and present. While my courses are reading intensive, I encourage students to encounter these voices from different types of reading.
- Students read the Bible, which provides them with numerous voices (Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Jesus, Paul and many others), and they learn to recognize how these voices address us all in different forms (saga, epic, parable, apocalyptic, gospel and letter).
- In addition to the Bible students consult and reflect upon other holy texts, which contain the voices of teachers associated with different religions of the world, and they study and consider questions and answers about the meaning of life in novels, short stories and poems.
- Because I also realize that students respond to a variety of valid forms, I try to show how religious questions and answers are posed through visual art (like the Jewish painter Marc Chagall), music (like Rastafarian reggae), dance (like the Whirling dervishes of the Islamic Sufi tradition) and film (like Kundun , a biopic of the Dalai Lama).
In the task of introducing students to the voices that call to us from across the centuries, I believe that focusing on a variety of cultures is important. Because I and most of my students live in the West, it is valid to examine the ideas embedded in our society that have grown out of a “Western way of thinking,” but it is also critical, especially in our time of cultural upheaval, to possess a general knowledge of the religious questions and answers that have evolved from within non-Western societies and/or religions. I introduce these different voices and forms because I acknowledge that varied learning styles exist in my classroom. If several learning styles are acknowledged, and if several forms and voices are offered, then this situation presents all students with the chance to maximize their performance. As a consequence, no-one is disadvantaged or unfairly favored by any one form or voice. .
A second goal in my teaching, which grows out of the first and is as equally important, is to help students understand themselves as part of a religious history. Thus, I want them to analyze and evaluate religious questions and answers and to formulate their own responses to them. I try to achieve this goal by structuring my courses so that they are as writing intensive as they are reading intensive. The aim here is to assist the student in the task of expressing in a clear statement a personal opinion directly related to a voice from the past (or present), and to support that opinion with good reasons (valid evidence and persuasive argumentation). Although my courses are writing intensive, I once again concede that different learning styles and abilities exist in my classroom.
- To achieve this aim, I make it a point to guide students through different types of writing — informal, “free writing exercises,” eCollege threaded discussions, and research papers.
- I also enjoin students to participate fully in an oral exchange of religious ideas gathered from the past and present. I accomplish this goal by building into my syllabi certain “Discussion Days,” which are class periods set aside for the sole purpose of using skills of critical thinking and analysis in an oral context.
- Finally, written examinations (including multiple choice, matching name, short answers and long essays), which occur at both midterm and at the end of the course, serve as one of the primary components of final assessment. Along with different writing assignments, oral discussions and/or creative presentations, written examinations help to identify different levels of attainment.
Comments on Teaching
Robert H. Neilson
Professor of Chemistry
During the last 20 or so years, my primary teaching responsibility has been in the large sections (typically 130-180 students) of General Chemistry 10113 (fall) and 10123 (spring). This is the teaching role in the department that I prefer and very much enjoy. It affords me the privilege of having nearly ten percent of TCU’s entering first year class, including many of the top students (premedical students, various science and engineering majors, etc.) in my classroom. For the vast majority of them, on the first morning of class in the fall, I am the first professor that they encounter at the start of their TCU career. This is a responsibility that I take very seriously. Much of that first class period is spent discussing our respective roles, responsibilities, and expectations. I start by telling the class that “my job is not to teach you.” After the collective gasp subsides, I explain instead that “my job is to help you learn.” Then we have a discussion of the three keys to success (hard work, analytical thinking, and self-confidence) that are required, in about equal proportions, not only for this course but for any challenging, worthwhile endeavor. These themes are revisited in a variety of contexts throughout the semester. Several times we have also done an on-line course evaluation based on the same ideas.
My overall teaching philosophy is to challenge everyone in the class to do their very best. I strive to keep the top students engaged and interested while trying not to leave behind anyone who adopts the first, and most important, key to success, namely hard work. Chemistry is a difficult, cumulative subject in which concepts cannot be simply memorized but rather must be understood and applied in a variety of ways. In order to evaluate the students’ level of the understanding, I consistently avoid using multiple choice exams, relying instead on “show your work” problems and questions that illustrate the concepts. I grade all of the weekly quizzes and major exams myself not only to better gage their understanding of the material but also to add a somewhat more personal touch. Many students who are working very hard still require considerable assistance with the other keys to success, i.e., analytical thinking and/or self-confidence. Outside the classroom, I address these issues with students individually during office hours, a minimum of ten hours per week, and other times as well. This gives me the chance to get to know many of them quite well, despite the large class size, and gives them the chance to know me as an informal advisor and mentor.
In recent years, I have incorporated two additional learning aids into General Chemistry: a class internet site and group problem solving sessions. The class web site contains a variety of useful information including lecture notes for the entire semester, copies of old exams, answer keys to quizzes and exams, the current grade distribution, and assorted “handouts” and announcements. The site also include a class discussion board, essentially an on-line help session, on which students post questions, comments, and suggestions about the homework problems and other course material. Responses and answers come from other students as well as myself. The group problem solving sessions are impromptu, in-class, extra-credit exercises that I hold two or three times per semester. Working in groups of five or six, with a designated group leader, students pool their analytical thinking, time-management, and inter-personal skills to solve particularly challenging problems. Group leaders are often asked to write a critique of the process and post it for additional comment on the discussion board.
Finally, I want to enthusiastically affirm my commitment to the Teacher-Scholar model that TCU upholds for its faculty. I am absolutely convinced that being active and productive in research greatly improves the quality of my teaching at the undergraduate level. There is definitely a synergistic relationship between research and teaching, rather than the either-or dichotomy that is often debated in academic circles. I regularly teach the large lecture sections of General Chemistry where getting the student’s attention and developing a basic appreciation for chemistry is the biggest challenge. My research and participation in scientific meetings keeps me up-to-date with current, cutting-edge topics in chemistry and gives me enthusiasm for bringing relevant, real-world ideas and examples into the classroom. I still firmly believe that today, more than ever.