Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Teaching Philosophy

So I was asked to compose a teaching philosophy for my graduate school history class at the Catholic University of America. Mine turned out somewhat... different than everyone else's. 

Brilliance is not a happy accident reserved to the fortunate few. It is a way of life, founded upon a spirit of intellectual curiosity and dogged perseverance in the pursuit of knowledge. As a teacher, it is my first and foremost task to inculcate these attitudes in my students, pushing them to excel.

But the task of the teacher is not merely to mold minds to think clearly; the truly excellent educator touches students’ souls as well. If I have not touched my students’ lives for the better through my good example, I have failed them. 
This twofold calling of the teacher – to shape minds and souls – demands knowledge of each and every student and concern for their well-being. To be an effective teacher, I must come to know the likes, dislikes, learning styles, and habits of my students. Teaching is not a one-size-fits-all affair; I must also accommodate my preferred teaching style (lecture mixed with student questioning) to suit my students’ needs.
Inside the classroom, my teaching is designed to engage students, making them active participants in their own learning. In my classroom, each student takes charge of his or her own learning, and participation on the part of each individual is welcomed and appreciated.
My task as a history teacher is to weave past and present together in a way that encourages each student to seek to know more about the past. But for the excellent history teacher, a love for the past is impossible to gratify without an emphasis on the building blocks of history – documents and fixed events. My class demands that students focus on these cornerstones of history, and not construct ideological castles in the air which perpetuate their preconceived notions and ignore the facts of time.
For a German Augustinian monk really did nail 95 theses to a cathedral door in 1517. A Jewish girl hid in an attic and kept a detailed and compelling diary while Nazis hunted to kill her and her family. An American plane dropped one bomb that vaporized that Japanese city of Hiroshima and killed tens of thousands. The interpretations of particular events and documents may change, but the events and documents from which history is pieced together do not. They become the markers of history – guideposts which direct the discipline.  
Without an emphasis on documents and fixed events, history becomes an exercise in systematized fantasy – a playground for the fiction writer or the Marxist to construct alternate realities or postulate absurd theories. Divorced from actual occurrences, history becomes illusion – or worse, propaganda in servitude to preconceived ideology.
But the converse is true, as well. An inchoate collection of events means nothing without an overarching narrative to tie them together. The “teacher” who amasses great knowledge of unrelated events is nothing more than an antiquarian. To master the craft of history, a successful history teacher must weave the documents and happenings into a compelling, plausible narrative.
People with similar narratives coalesce to form different schools of history, which wax and wane like the tides. Political history is in fashion one generation, social history the next. Fittingly, a discipline that analyzes and documents human change over time is itself subject to time’s cycles.
However, there is one narrative exempt from the vicissitudes of time – a narrative which I embrace. Christ, Lord of history, founded a Church whose teaching remains unchanged, even as Her form has changed dramatically over the ages. I view history through the prism of the teaching of the timeless Church, and will educate my students through that lens.
God willing, my efforts will help students to share my love of the past.

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