Teaching Portfolio Contents
Inspiration: Symbols of Teaching
Teaching Symbol: Candle
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
Teaching is giving light, giving of knowledge, to students. As explored in my reflection post, one way to look at teaching is as gift-giving. The wax and the wick of a candle, together, create light. There is no light without the wax and wick. They burn away, and, in the process, release the gift of light into space. A candle does not talk about light, it GIVES light, just as a teacher gives light.
Teaching Symbol: Glass
“The intellect of the wise is like glass; it admits the light of heaven and reflects it.” – Augustus Hare
A teacher not only generates light, but reflects students’ light back to them. Glass is transparent. It reflects and refracts light. By doing so, the teacher helps students see personal areas of strength and areas for improvement. This is often enacted through the grading process, which should be viewed as an opportunity for learning and feedback rather than merely assigning an assessment.
Teaching Symbol: Bookshelf
“As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together.” – Parker Palmer
Teaching is a unique opportunity to bring your entire self to the classroom, including every book you’ve ever read! Teachers draw on multiple strands of knowledge, experiences, readings, and passions. In one class session, a teacher might call upon experiences from different stages in life, work projects, and topics from different courses taken years apart, at different schools, and concepts from books read decades before. Examples may be planned and integrated into the lesson, or shared as they come in the moment, as discussed in my research about improvisation and teaching.
Learning Symbol: Eraser
“Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.” – Sister Corita Kent
Learning is doing. Students are sometimes afraid to make mistakes. The learning environment should affirm the process of trial and error and allow for mistakes. Just as teachers who would seek to create collaborative discussion through improvisation know to accommodate and accept student contributions to dialogue, so learners must be willing to share and possibly make mistakes. Learning happens from acting, from making mistakes, and from reformulating our understanding.
Learning Symbol: Plant
“We are exploring together. We are cultivating a garden together, backs to the sun. The question is a hoe in our hands and we are digging beneath the hard and crusty surface to the rich humus of our lives.” – Parker Palmer
Students undertaking the learning process, as with plants, must move toward the light. Each plant is in a different position in relation to the sun and requires varying amounts of light or water. Each student has different questions to answer in their lives. To do so, they must understand the value of light and how to cultivate their growth. The sun cannot by itself grow a plant. As with plants, students receive light, but they must also take responsibility for their growth.
Learning Symbol: Light Bulb
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Just as learners are nourished by teachers, and plants are nourished by the sun to eventually contribute oxygen to the air, students must translate the light they have received. Students must make their knowledge into a contribution. They become their own producer of light. Just as many modern energy-saving light bulbs include a spiraling bulb, this is an upward spiral and an ongoing process learning and contributing to the world ones knowledge and gifts.
A teacher creates and facilitates learning moments or experiences. The teacher brings a number of tools and strengths to creating these experiences: passion for the subject, pedagogical research, content knowledge, knowledge of students, consideration of student outcomes, willingness and ability to improvise when called for, responsibility for grading and providing feedback, preparing and planning lessons, managing logistics such as attendance, concern regarding teacher position and evaluation, and more. It takes skill and artistry to bring all of these facets (or a relevant combination of them) to the classroom. With so many at times various priorities, it is important to ground one’s teaching in reflection and continual improvement.
As reinforced in the Constructivist tradition, I do not see the class session as a transfer of knowledge from students to teacher, but a structured learning experience includes an exchange back and forth between teacher and students, who are active learners. My teaching experiences thus far have been characterized by active learning opportunities to synthesize and apply class concepts.
When teaching Human Communication Theory, I created an opportunity for students to begin synthesizing the bulk of the material learned up to that point in the course by revisiting the theories already and learned doing some comparison and application. When teaching a writing workshop for Communication and Technology, I aimed to both get students started on structuring their resumes and facilitate peer to peer sharing. So, the learning activity I created involved choosing from a list resume headings those that were most relevant to student experience, then choosing one experience and drafting descriptions of student responsibilities and accomplishments. Then, students shared their points with a partner to hear them verbally and begin refining. A lecture can be engaging but a lecture that includes active learning moments and activities that get students to apply and synthesize concepts in the safety and supportive learning environment is another thing. That’s a learning experience!
In meeting with students outside of class and providing feedback on assignments, teachers relationally are able to give individualized help to students. Grading, rather than merely an assessment of student performance, is a significant function of teaching in which one gives specific feedback to each student in a timely manner so it can be incorporated as a learning experience for later assignments. Feedback on compositional writing (whether it be a full paper or a short essay response within a larger multiple choice assessment) is a rich form of feedback that enables students to grow their writing and communication skills, particularly when it includes examples of improvement and engages the student in finalizing it. My feedback to students on papers often says “Name, I see where you were going with X, however, it is easily missed. Consider rewording to inserting a new phrase such as x. Which best communicates your point?”When students seek additional guidance from the teacher outside of class, it is an additional opportunity to model the learning process. As a teacher, I seek to create scaffolding in these instances to help the student climb to where they need to be rather than carrying the student on my back, shouldering 99% of the burden. Student learning is a shared responsibility between teacher and student. Rarely does the teacher say, “this is exactly what you need to do.”
So, what does my classroom look like? As a visual learner who has experienced many classrooms that prioritize auditory learning, it is important to me to create a learning space that engages students both visually and aurally. This often means lecturing or activities accompanied by Power Point visuals. When possible, I also strive to create an environment in which students see themselves as a cohesive team working together to learn rather than as an isolated student competing for a better grade than fellow classmates with whom they never speak. This means I facilitate activities and opportunities within the classroom to build connections and learning moments between fellow students.
In my classroom, students are invited to learn through actively engaging in and participating in the learning experience. I expect students to take ownership of his or her learning and responsibility for incorporating new knowledge into his or her own experience. Students can expect to take out of my classes sharpened writing and communication skills, and increased knowledge of the subject matter and comfort both speaking and writing about it. My teaching philosophy is to creatively engage students in active learning experiences, and to transparently relay feedback while modeling the learning process for students.