Teaching Philosophy

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As far as I know, the very first act of analysis in the Western world occurs in Book 12 of Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus has allowed himself to be bound tight to his ship’s mast, so that he may listen to the sweet song of the Sirens without succumbing to their enchanting power. When the ship approaches the island and the beautiful tones enter Odysseus’ ears, he pleads with his crew to unbind him. But his shipmates cut the lashings only when Odysseus can no longer hear the intoxicating sounds. The Greek verb for this act of unbinding is anelusan, from which we get the noun analusis—literally, a loosening up.

As a teacher of the humanities, I hope to offer students experiences of analusis, but in a different way than Odysseus understood it. Engaging with the humanities fosters an unbinding of the mind, an enlargement of perspective that roots an individual’s self-understanding not just in her own lifetime and community, but in the long story of humanity. I imagine the history of human civilization as an archaeological dig site: distinct layers of sediment gather on top of one another, each layer conditioning or preparing the soil for the next. Through literature, philosophy, and history I aim to help students explore the past—layer by layer—and cultivate a sense of the continuity of human history, “the relation and responsibility of every generation,” in the words of historian James Turner, “to those that succeed it.”

Whether I’m teaching a group of twenty students or tutoring just one person, my goal is to foster a conversation. In my experience, students learn the most when they are engaged in active dialogue with someone else: their peers, their teachers, or both. The best classes and tutoring sessions have a back-and-forth dynamic that’s characterized by respect, passion, and critical engagement with a student’s ideas. I don’t think of myself simply as a discussion moderator, though.  I’m responsible for ensuring that my students master a given set of skills and content. The first step to my success as a teacher is getting to know my students as individuals. Early on, my primary goal is to assess the unique strengths and weaknesses of my students so that I can develop a teaching strategy that’s tailored to their individual needs.

In all my teaching, my aim is to cultivate intellectual independence and self-sufficiency. I focus on asking the right questions, not just providing answers. There will be moments when I talk and my students listen, but the format of a lesson always returns to conversation. This is especially true when I tutor. Talking one-on-one with a student allows me to fluidly assess his or her depth of understanding. As our conversation unfolds, I can adapt my approach in a way that most benefits the individual student.

I care deeply about the world of ideas and scholarship, but I wish for my students much more than academic success. I am not interested in children as walking test scores. My students are whole individuals and I teach in a way that prioritizes their overall well-being and development. Ultimately, I hope that my students grow to love learning as much as I do. If I can help them meet their goals while also inspiring them to enjoy the process, I’ve done my job well.

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