This I Believe

Catherine - San Antonio, Texas
Entered on November 2, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe that learning is a process—this statement may not be original but is in line with what John Dewey expressed when he wrote “learning is life, not just preparation for life.” My teaching philosophy is grounded in the belief that a student is an individual that must be able to pursue knowledge independent of the teacher. As a result of mentors that I have had, I find that I do not like to feed students information. I prefer to have them participate and take responsibility for their learning. I like to task them to find answers. I find it more interesting to make time for discussion and develop activities for them to argue their points, constructing meaning as I try to guide them along. The development of critical thinking must be practiced. This is a challenge for me to create strategies that enhance this skill among students and hold back from providing premature answers. It is not unusual for me to guide students to “un-learn” teacher reliance. This can be uncomfortable for them as well as for me. I like causing a bit of chaos with their thinking. I believe it is helpful to create that cognitive dissonance that will then nudge them to find answers that they will remember. In this way, they learn how to learn— for me this is the essence of an education.

I am glad that I waited to teach this late in my life. Having practiced internationally for over 15 years as a clinician before starting my career as an academic instructor, I feel I have things to say and insights to share. I am a natural teacher and found that I was always teaching in the clinical setting. I really enjoy sharing information to help others gain new skills and knowledge. I feel that I bring the application of theory and science to the classroom when I teach. It is interesting to me that teaching here at the UTHSCSA has made me a better clinician and given me a better understanding of myself as a communicator and scholar. My students “keep me honest”. They identify areas where I can improve while also appreciating areas where I have communicated my knowledge and expertise effectively. Therefore, learning and teaching occur as reciprocal processes of improvement, both for me as the instructor and for my students.

When I think about learning and teaching, I think about a sentiment expressed by colleagues from China who say that “Americans always want learning to be fun”. These colleagues go on to state that learning something new and progressing from a novice to an expert is painful. I believe that though a good teacher tries to make this progress less painful with devised activities and relevance, the learning process is really not fun for students. A good teacher is aware of this—aware of the anxiety, the confusion, the uncertainty and the frustration that are part of being a novice with any body of knowledge or with any new skill. I strive to be a good teacher and try to ease these scary emotions for students. Yes, I still try to make learning fun at every opportunity. I realize that my endeavors may just ease a portion of an inevitably painful process; a learning process that includes memorization, repetition, practice, testing, analysis, synthesis and ultimately integration with insight. It is the new revelation that is satisfying and fun for students, not the process.

I like when I walk into a room with my arms full and hear a student say “oh gosh, who knows what she will do today”. I think that novelty and the ability to appeal to a student’s sense of curiosity promotes attention and brings some entertainment with learning. It is challenging for me but also rewarding. Within our curriculum, I find myself teaching sciences and theories that are essential and critical to clinical practice. However, when addressing an audience of students used to multi-media, multi-tasking and a multi-sensory environment the delivery of this information is challenging. I find that these adult learners whom I teach crave relevance. Bringing relevance to what I present is my forte. I strive to make relevance as entertaining as possible while also making the learner responsible for attaining the overall understanding.

As a naturally reserved minority female in the specialty area of sports medicine, I have found that one has to search to attain knowledge and grasp opportunities when presented. I feel that these traits and insights bring strength to my teaching. I am able to see the student that is uncertain of their reception in a classroom; the student that is hesitant to make themselves heard and therefore, may hide their talents. I think it is important to draw out these students to make them aware of their uniqueness and their ability to contribute to the learning of others. I find I am able to appeal to a variety of students based upon my background and international experiences. This ability to connect and effect change with many different students is one of the satisfying aspects in teaching for me. I hope to make all students aware of the need to search for information to make their own success.

Finally, there is another sentiment from Asian thought that describes my understanding of a good teacher. It is that the “master”, a term for a teacher in Eastern arts, is considered as good as the accomplishments of their students. I always strive for the best and if my students can be smarter than me, excel in accomplishments beyond mine and attain greatness beyond my capabilities or achievements, I feel I have done well as a teacher. I like that my students think thoughts beyond me and push me to new realizations. I like that they continue to strive; I like when their learning is greater than mine and that this process can happen and continue without me. For me, this is the true value of teaching and the outcomes of life-long learning that I wish for all students.