Who am I?

I appreciated that Sarah Deel emphasized that there are many ways to be a good teacher. One size does not in fact fit all. I have gone through several rotations of “I can’t teach like them, thus I will never be a good teacher” during my time here. After these readings, I feel a bit more self-affirmed in believing that I have the potential to finally find my own stride and be an effective teacher. Alas, I am but a novice at this point in the realm of teaching.

I have officially taught 3 lectures as of this point in my graduate career (second semester of second year of PhD). The lectures were for 3 separate teachers that I was working for, and they all had different expectations. For the sake of respecting their privacy, I will assign them the pseudonyms of Matthew, Lincoln, and Adam.

The first teacher I subbed for was Matthew. When he requested that I teach a lecture he instructed me to use his assigned readings and apply his teaching/power point style. His teaching style (honestly) consisted of him talking at students until the clock ran out. It was not often that his students could get a word in. He is an intelligent and kind man who is respected in our field, but I would not classify him as an above-average listener. When my turn came around to teach, I applied his method and felt very uncomfortable. Talking at people is just not who I am. It was good that he was not there, for about 3/4 of the way through I had to rebel about and asked the students if they had questions. Also, I developed an in-class group activity on the spot in order to combat the monotony. After the class was over, several students actually came up to me to thank me for enabling them to speak and move around. This surprised me, for I had always seen Matthew as the academic giant and research guru. It finally helped sharpen my understanding that being a good researcher does not mean that they are also instantly a good teacher.

My second experience in teaching was when I was working for Lincoln. Lincoln was an “industry person” recruited by department as an adjunct professor. Lincoln had never taught before. She was wise in the ways of her industry experience. I think it was this experience that had some students willing to listen to her. Overall, she was not very organized. At one point, she had to go out of town and said she would need to me to sub for her. She then proceeded to give me a previous teacher of the course’s lecture materials and asked that I follow it to the T. This was a bit aggravating. Verily, as teachers we are teaching preexisting material, but generally teachers have the luxury of shaping the vehicle that conveys this information. I found it difficult to use somebody else’s words. This experience taught me the value of not only having a good grasp of the knowledge at hand, but communicating it in such a way that you feel comfortable standing by. You need to own your words.

My third teaching experience has been by far my favorite. Adam is a newer teacher with somewhat of a “hippie” mentality. She asked me to teach a lecture because she felt that as a PhD student I need to take opportunities to teach with a safety net. She gave me the general subject material, but then she told me I am free to identify the readings (if I wanted to assign any) and to teach in the way that I deemed acceptable. She told me that as a teacher you have to find your style, but not lose the students in the meantime. The only other hard line she set for me was that since this was a 4000-level course, she expected her students to participate in deeper discussion. This meant that I needed to also function as a facilitator. With this knowledge in hand, I created my lecture. I owned it. It was mine. I picked the readings. I walked into that classroom for the first time feeling like an actual teacher. I felt that I had something to teach them. The discussion went well, and the banter was active and intellectual. Afterwards and to my surprise, I had several students come up to compliment me on my teaching. This was a confidence boost I very much needed.

These three experiences have taught me a little bit about who I am. I have a long ways to go before fully knowing what my teaching voice is. I do know that I can’t teach a script that is not mine. I do know that I like to apply a contemporary context to the material. I do know that I like to extend beyond the words in a book. I do know that I can’t just talk at people for an hour and 15 minutes. I do know that I want to allow for a certain level of autonomy among my students. I do know that whether I like it or not, my awkward sense of humor will come out in a classroom setting. Most importantly, I do know that the classes I will teach in the future will have a certain level of co-creation going on between myself and the students.

I have a long ways to go to knowing what kind of teacher I am. I need more time in the classroom to be able to fully test the waters. It’s time to learn to walk.



What Harry Potter Taught Me About Teaching: Be a McGonagall, not a Lockhart.

Be a McGonagall, not a Lockhart. Be a Dumbledore, not an Umbridge. And even though he turns it around in the end, when it comes to teaching, probably don’t be a Snape.

I’m a mega Harry Potter fan, right down to noticing (and sometimes loving) the slight differences between the books and the movies. Like most people who grew up reading the series, I can’t quite put into words how much these stories impacted my life. I can only tell you that I loved them as a kid, and I love them still. And with respect to both the books and the movies, my favorite Minerva McGonagall moment on film comes as the Battle of Hogwarts is about to begin in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (While the filmmakers did add a little bit to the existing plot line for this scene, I will emphatically defend the added line of dialogue, but that’s not the point of this post.)

Some of you may know the scene I’m referring to, but if not, please watch it courtesy of YouTube:

When McGonagall transforms the statues into soldiers ready to fight for Hogwarts, tensions are climbing. Everyone is afraid of what is to come and uncertain whether or not any good will come of their efforts. (Yes, I was crying through this scene, as McGonagall brought the castle to life. I really felt for her, a teacher trying to protect her students and save her school, even if saving it meant destroying it.) Then she said it.

“I’ve always wanted to use that spell.”

Aside from the comic relief that moment brought, I can also say that it was a defining moment for me not just as a Harry Potter fan, but as a student and a teacher. There was something about her momentary joy in a moment of looming terror that struck me as important. And I was reminded once again that even though she would have been strict, I know McGonagall would have been my favorite teacher. In that moment, I saw a teacher who knew exactly who she was, and I saw a teacher excited to try new things.

Of course, that reminds me of some of the readings for this week, including this observation by Sarah Deel: “I hadn’t considered that certain qualities described me (like my earnestness or attention to detail) could be a legitimate part of my teaching voice.”

Of course, I’m not here asking, “What would McGonagall do?” because that isn’t how my brain works; I have to find my own teaching path, my own voice. The are many ways to be a good teacher (or a bad one). McGonagall’s to-the-point, no-nonsense, strict but fair attitude was always something I liked about her in the HP series, even though I never would have wanted to replicate it myself, at least not to the same degree. Granted, my first semester teaching was full of confusion and uncertainty and seemingly endless questions about my identity as a teacher: How should I act? How can I be myself? Should I? How do I keep it professional yet lighthearted? How would I describe myself?

(The answer has been the same since I was eight: I’m a little bit weird, thankyouverymuch.)

Again, with respect to Deel’s piece, what stuck with me especially was the most important commonality she noted among good teachers in her life: “They explained their strategies to their students. The context of the particular classroom was very important; since the students in each class understood their teacher’s philosophy and evaluation style, they were able to learn from the teacher’s responses to their writing.”

And it makes sense; students want to understand why they work they’ve been assigned is relevant to their own lives. Granted, I’m not McGonagall tasking Neville Longbottom with finding a way to blow up part of Hogwarts in order to protect it, but I do want my students to feel like the work they’re doing means something and is useful to them.

And this, of course, is where I turn from McGonagall to Gilderoy Lockhart.


First, let me admit that my favorite student comment from my first semester of teaching evaluations is as follows:  “Rachel is the most charmingly self-deprecating teacher I’ve ever met.” If you’ve read Harry Potter, then you know this puts me about as far from Gilderoy Lockhart as I can get, and I’m pretty proud of that. Usually, if I’m toeing the line of being too professional and reserved, I tend to back away from it if it means I think I can help my students.

Where Gilderoy Lockhart would embellish and lie about his experiences to make himself look better, I’m willing to throw myself under the bus when it comes to explaining to students terrified of giving presentations that I too used to have a massive fear of public speaking. I’m willing to tell them I didn’t particularly enjoy math, and that my success with it was largely dependent on a college professor who understood that her course was only good to most of us if it could be useful in our daily lives. From full-on stuttering and sweating at the front of a room to barely making it through a statistics class, I’m willing to share my experiences with students whether they’re the good, the bad, or the ugly, so long as I think it might engage them and leave them more open to the work I’m asking them to complete.

So even though I’m still defining my identity as a teacher, and even though I’m still developing my own understanding of my “authentic teaching voice,” I like to think that I’m on the right track. Maybe I’m a combination of some parts Dumbledore, McGonagall, Lupin, and even a little bit of Snape… I am a Slytherin, after all. These Hogwarts professors are not afraid to be themselves and they are open, at least to some extent, to sharing their experiences in order to help students learn.

Seeing as my story is not finished yet, it feels like a pretty good start.

Teaching Philosophy is Rooted in A Teacher’s Personality

If you google “teaching philosophy”, there will be thousands of results coming out teaching you how to write a good “teaching philosophy” sample. According to one result, the definition of “teaching philosophy” is “A teaching philosophy is a self-reflective statement of your beliefs about teaching and learning.  It should also discuss how you put your beliefs into practice by including concrete examples of what you do or anticipate doing in the classroom.” (https://cei.umn.edu/support-services/tutorials/writing-teaching-philosophy). After reading this definition, my feeling is “teaching philosophy” should reflect one’s own style for teaching. So how can people establish their “teaching philosophy” by learning from thousands of others’ experiences? Is there anything like best “teaching philosophy” existing in the world?

My answer is no to this question. I believe a teacher should form “teaching philosophy” based on his/her own personalities. Some teachers are very open-minded and like to organize discussions among students in class. They may not prefer to use well-planned materials to teach. Instead, they prefer to adjust their syllabus according to the needs/performance of the students. Some teachers tend to focus on details and always spend a decent amount of time preparing the materials for teaching. They have strict syllabus and know very well what they are going to teach in the whole semester. They tend to use well-designed test to evaluate students’ performance and have clear expectation from the students. Some teachers are good at culturing a vivid class atmosphere by frequently telling jokes. While some teachers are “uncool” but are good at keeping the class well organized. I think all these teaching styles are deeply rooted in the personalities of the teachers.

I do not think there is a best teaching philosophy just as I do not think there is the best personality for a person. It will look awkward for a shy person to mimic a comedian-like teacher in class. So just be yourself! It will make you and your students feel more comfortable. If you are intently simulate others, you will pay much more attention on your own behaviors instead of on your students. But be yourself does not mean that you can do anything you wish in the classroom. You need to follow the common rules such as treat all the students equally and nicely. As long as the teachers exhibit their expertise and enthusiasm in teaching, I think they can be accepted by a vast majority of students.

Breaking the Ice

Not everyone gets the opportunity to develop a teaching philosophy before their first teaching experience. When I first started teaching, I had no previous guidance. I started with the conventional routine of introducing myself and covering the course outline. Never did I think of ways to interact with my students, or how to develop good communication skills between us. I started facing language barriers, group formation barriers and general class management difficulties, but the most important challenge to me was to feel more comfortable and pass this feeling on to my students. In other words, breaking the ice!

Towards mid-semester, I noticed that I’m having a hard time in getting the class to interact with their friends, participate, or even joke around. It felt like they weren’t enjoying class. I figured that I need to develop strategies to promote active learning. After taking advice from some of my colleagues, I started to shape my own teaching philosophy. I wanted to promote an environment where everyone in class can feel comfortable. On the first day of a new semester, I started my first class this time by distributing blank papers for students – this time, it was for name tags. While I was modelling my instruction on forming a name tag, I was happy to see that most of the class was participating. Calling out individuals by their names on the first day made them feel recognized and appreciated. I can imagine how disturbing it can be when your class instructor spends the whole semester without knowing your name. Since then, I gave the students casual class breaks where I took the time to talk to some of them on topics outside of class materials. Developing a basic friendship with students was my aim in helping them break down that barrier that’s usually is almost always there between students and professors. As I continued to come up with simpler ways to communicate with the students, I knew that teaching will become less challenging and more enjoyable than what I initially experienced.

The importance of breaking the ice in a classroom begins with providing a student sense of recognition, and sets up a stimulating environment that encourages participation and communication between students. Students receive a sense of responsibility as part of their learning by comfortably interacting in groups and generally building an optimum performing and dynamic classroom.

Three “Wow”s about Finding My Teaching Voice

When I tried to discover my authentic teaching self, I went through three “wow” moments.

Wow, panic is a common thing. That was the first feeling I went through when I was discovering my teaching voice. When I started to try to picture myself teaching, and search for a suitable and strong teaching image, I felt so embarrassed and panic that I couldn’t really see one, which got me into an even worse situation. I kept this secret to myself at first, I tried to think over and over again, and I still didn’t get an answer or come up with a good model. Then I finally decided to open up to people around me about this, I found I was not the one wondering about their teaching image. Just like if you get a new pair of glasses, you start to pay attention to glasses on the road. Suddenly, I saw the same problem everyway, even in the TV shows. In How I Met Your Mother, the main character Ted Mosby got hired to be a professor at university, he went through a change from an architect to a professor of architecture. He was so panic that he even forgot if there was one or two “F” s in the word professor when he would like to write down his self-introduction.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/courtnysauer/how-i-met-your-mother/

Wow, role model is important. That was the second feeling I found out about the searching journey. When I tried to anchor myself, I started to think about all the great professors I had courses with before, their teaching voice, their personality, their ways to connect with students. At one level, I noticed that I always talked about the professors’ teaching style with my friends, and always assumed that if I was teaching, I would like to be like them or make improvements. I heard so many other students talk like that too. For example, when I posted about pink time inspired by Dan Pink, I noticed that some comments said that they would like to try so. That is an important kind of imitating and learning, just like the basic one human species did million years ago. At another level, I felt that my teaching voice at this point is still adjusting, so it is always changed according to different professors’ influences. Role model is important to this standard since our teaching, like our lives, are influenced by different people we run into, different incidents happen, different path we choose every day.

Wow, acting can’t last long in teaching. That was the third thing I realized along the searching way. Going back to Ted Mosby, he set himself up as a teaching image too far away from his own personality, all the weird and awkward acting only leaded to those moments made him lose sight of who he was for a second. I felt the same, if we want to follow up a teaching role model that is too different from our true self, acting can’t last long.

Source: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/15-relationship-lessons-that-ted-mosby-taught.html

Thus, my teaching style and approach so far are as followings. First, I accept myself as a learner when it comes to teach, so I would not be too panic once I feel I am still searching for my style. I would be always trying new activities and approaches to get the feedback from students and adjust more. Second, I gain new knowledge and new teaching images from my professors every day, I always associate their teaching with their personality to see how they fit themselves into teaching, and discover how different people teach differently. Third, I try to keep the true me when I teach, since I recognize myself as kind, energetic, genuine, creative, but I also like to live up to perfection. So I would teach in an energetic and genuine style, filling with creative activities. I would lay down detailed rules about the class and the assignments, and grade students in a strict way focusing on their learning process and learning effort.

From Cooking to Becoming a Chef

In a recent conversation with a colleague, I realized how our intellectual processes are like cooking by yourself at home. Thoughts are food of our brains. We gather the ingredients, apply the recipes we learn, but most importantly we personalize it. We may not afford to cook at home all the time. We may need a quick snack or sometimes we even crave for comfort food. However, at the times we go to the restaurants we assess the authenticity of the recipe, the creativity of the use of ingredients, the mastery in cooking and service.


The classroom setting is where the teacher presents her/his best recipes with the ingredients as rich as possible. But it seems it is half of becoming a well-known chef. The design and serving are also artistic sides of becoming a chef, which is considered to be her/his signature of success. The success of the chef lies at her/his creativity and skill in using the cooking material, as well as adjusting different tastes in harmony. In that sense, a chef needs good observation skills, s/he needs to be mindful, to be open to critique and reflection, and to be self-reflective. Cooking
is both an art and a responsibility for a chef, like teaching is to a teacher.

Deel presents the dilemmas she encountered when he first started teaching. Her discussion reflects how we may easily rely on the conceptual models about teaching, which are more or less caricaturized, in depicting success of a teacher. The task of engaging students in discussions or speak out in the classroom environment is a preliminary benchmark of the quality of the communication between the teacher and the student. The silence or enthusiasm is a symptom of how well the engagement has been accomplished: however, focusing on the out-come will not contribute to making progress as Deel argues.

Two lessons Deel brought to the discussion on authentic teaching is invaluable in helping to readjust our focus on the process of teaching. Explaining the teaching strategy helps the student assess how much and/or s/he can digest an information. It also helps the way in which the intellectual food we prepared to be distributed fairly. Yet, teachers, like chefs, engages in a conversation with students through their own style, which may be too spicy for some or entire class, as well as too sweet or too salty. The teacher needs to create her/his own assessment  to serve what s/he prepared.


Finally, a chef does not aim at feeding but creating something unique and artistic. A teacher should not aim feeding the students, but s/he should set an example of how to become an experienced cook, to engage in a conversation about cooking and the way in which we process, use, and digest intellectual food, how we narrativize and apply a recipe, and the most importantly, how teachers guide students to cook their own beneficial intellectual food that will help them to survive and develop.

Features of effective teachers

In my previous school, every year my department has about 10 sections of Principle of Biology Lab and I was TA for some of those. With the same class content, different teachers have very different ways to convey the materials to their students. Some teachers have to teach more than one class. But the way they teach Monday class is not identical to that of Friday class. Since teachers have a great impact on student learning and the impact might even last for years, it has always been so important to have effective teachers in the classroom. I completely agree with Deel (2004) that there is more than one way to become an effective teacher. But I think effective teachers often share certain features in common. Here is the list based on my own experiences and reading materials.

  1. Effective teachers know the subject they teach, love the subject, and commit to sharing it with their students.
  2. Effective teachers enjoy teaching and concern about the quality of their teaching.
  3. Effective teachers have clearly-defined standards of conducts as well as goals and expectations for their students.
  4. Effective teachers create a learning environment with mutual respect. In this environment, students feel they are a part of the classroom and comfortable to speak out their own thoughts.
  5. Effective teachers clearly explain the objectives of the course and each class. Also, they tell students the position of each class and how it connects with others in the overall picture of the course or even the discipline.
  6. The classes of effective teachers are well-prepared with plenty of additional information related to course materials such as the context for material, examples, and various ways of explanations to make materials more understandable and memorable. The class contents are often used to explain real-life phenomena or to link with their practical applications. Information is delivered in different ways, therefore, students of different learning style have the opportunity to absorb it.
  7. Effective teachers can explain complex ideas in simple ways.
  8. Effective teachers are willing to address students’ questions and discuss various viewpoints other than their own.
  9. Effective teachers know that not all students learn in the same way and at the same pace.
  10. Effective teachers have different methods to assess and evaluate students’ performance. They provide feedback (recognition as well as ways to improve) to individual students and explain the gap that the majority of class miss it. Also, they can adjust their teaching strategy if it does not work for the class.
  11. Effective teachers make themselves available for their students even on matters not directly related to the course.

Are We Creating Roadblocks or Pathways?

Credit: .athleticscholarships.net

Last week our class discussion covered the topic of simulation as a tool for learning and inquiry. Oddly enough, one of the assigned readings for this week [Yearners and Learners] made mention of Logo. Logo is a simulation software program that first appeared around the late 60s, and it served as the impetus of contemporary programs like NetLogo. Papert, the author of Yearners and Learners, saw the value of using computational computer programs to create a lived-learning experience. Now, this is what some would refer to as “initial learning” or the simplification of complex theories. A point I stressed in the discussion is that simulation can in no way address our full reality, and Papert also makes this point.

There was a clear split on how we view simulation in relation to the real world. Some class members were concerned that the creation of an artificial world might replace our current collective reality, while others were able to provide examples of how we use simulation to address our needs (e.g. product production). After reading the excerpt from Papert’s text, I can liken our class discussion to the author’s description of Yearners (revolutionaries) and Schoolers (traditionalists). There are those of us that yearn for an immediate revolution in the way we learn, and there are those who are more comfortable with traditional forms of learning. I do not think that taking an absolute position on either side of the fence is the best approach. In fact, I think doing so contributes to the inertial condition touched on by Papert. Yet, that is what we typically find ourselves doing when major change comes into the frame. Who typically loses in a School of absolutes are the students.

I say all of this to get to one salient point. I hope that we can find some middle ground between traditional and non-traditional forms of learning. Doing so will create a pathway for students to advance beyond our static frames.

That is good enough for me

The great Nelson Mandela once said, Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.” Nine years ago, I wanted change. After leading the quintessential yuppie life for six years, I realized that I wanted more than just a job that paid the bills and kept a roof over my head; I wanted a career that would make waking up each day more meaningful, to do something not because I was being compensated for what I was doing, but simply because I wanted to. At the time, it felt like the world and living has boiled down to getting through the day because that was what one had to do in order to survive. I wanted my personal world to change, and I wanted to live a life where I could contribute more to changing the world. To my surprise, I found myself going home to the alma mater that prepared me for the corporate life that I thought I wanted. I became a teacher.

Truth be told, I stumbled into teaching quite accidentally; nonetheless, I feel that I was meant to be an educator all along. I grew up with teachers and scholars, as my paternal grandparents were both basic education teachers, while my father taught part-time at the graduate level. I have always found fulfillment in being able to share what I know, in whatever means possible, and being able to learn from that experience as well.

I have been teaching for seven years before coming to Virginia Tech and taught here during my first semester, and my teaching style is drawn largely from instinct and personal experience as opposed to formal training in education. I mainly looked back at my own experience as a student, adopted practices used by my own professors that I thought effectively aided my learning process, and stayed away from those that I felt were not helpful. Indeed, there is a lot for me to learn about how to effectively impart knowledge to my students; what has been constant since the first day I stepped into a classroom as a teacher, though, is the fact that I have never stopped learning from my students.

I have always viewed learning as a transformative experience, for student and teacher alike. As such, I favor activities that would expose students to situations where they would be able to derive learning. For Special Project, the senior capstone project course, I encouraged students to look for ways through which their knowledge of electrical engineering may find practical application and make a project out of that. I created situations that would expose them to entities or communities that may need their assistance and connected them to the appropriate people; from there, however, they are encouraged to innovate and use their creativity as they set out to find solutions to the problems that they identify.

I also subscribe to the notion that while there is a lot of information that can be gained within the four walls of the University classroom, there is no teacher quite like the School of Hard Knocks. And as I prepare my students to go out from the University classroom into the harsh realities of the world out there, I find myself going back to my own experience as part of the work force, and sharing these personal and professional experiences with my students. In teaching Computer Systems, a course taken in the fourth year, I consistently tie the seemingly abstract concepts that are being discussed in class to actual applications in the workplace, in the form of anecdotes – stories about my little successes and frustrations as a one-time programmer and project manager. These stories have served as a springboard of lively discussion, as students are able to visualize the lessons and make it real. Being honest about my own struggles in the workplace also allow them to think through their own struggles and find ways to face their own fears and challenges.

I value respect, and as a teacher, I feel that it is not something that I am entitled to just because I am the person of authority standing in front, with the power to make or break a GPA. It is something that I earn as I show students that they are people who I respect as well. This atmosphere of mutual respect is something that I try to maintain in the classroom, regardless of the course that I am teaching. And in my experience, it has allowed me to remain the person of authority in class – without forcing that fact to the students.

I respect the individual, and the fact that every person has strengths and weaknesses, attributes that, when recognized, acknowledged, and understood, allows people to build meaningful relationships and make positive contributions to society. In teaching an elective course on Project Management for graduating students, I used case studies and subsequent class discussions to illustrate this, and to stress the reality that engineers function in multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural teams that attempt to resolve ill-structured problems.

With the graduating class of 2013, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Ateneo de Davao University. Davao City, Philippines.

I believe that as an educator, I do more than just teach. My responsibilities go beyond instruction, as I play an important role in the formation of these young people as they prepare to take their place in tomorrow’s society. And every single day, I wake up trying to do better than how I did yesterday – not because I have to, but because I want to.

So how has education helped me change the world? I take pride in the fact that while I myself have not formulated a new theory or developed the next big thing in electrical engineering, I have been a part of the lives of young people who may eventually change the world. That is good enough for me.

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