I have been thinking about my experience teaching thus far so that I can think of ways that I can improve. In doing this, I have thought about the goals that I had in the beginning of the semester. After thinking on these goals, I realized that I have failed to actualize them.
My biggest thing going into this semester was that I wanted my students to have a non-traditional classroom experience. I wanted them to be able to see how the texts could influence them in their every day lives.
I also wanted to integrate different standpoints into the discussions of the text.
Additionally, I wanted my students to feel like knowledge was accessible. Many students in my undergraduate classes felt alienated from the texts. They didn't understand what the professor was going on an on about and why. Sadly, the questions that professors would bring up through the assigned texts and lectures were questions that are important for figuring out what a good life looks like and what a good society looks like. The class could have been a safe place for them to rigorously think about their life and the people in it but instead it was a place where they had to obtain abstract forms of knowledge, memorize it, and regurgitate it to pass a test. They were very distanced from the ideas, and thus the field of philosophy because of this.
I also wanted a classroom where I wasn't the single source of power and authority over the texts. I wanted the students to decide what was important about the texts.
Lastly, I wanted to have all of the things mentioned and I wanted to execute it in a way that ensured that the student who only took the class because it was mandatory and the star student would get something meaningful from the class.
So.. did I live up to my goal? For the most part I didn't but I swear I have good reasons for it.
I wanted students to be able to see how the texts could influence them in their every day lives. The way that I tried to achieve this was by asking my students questions that would enable them to think about how the ethical theory (I TA for a social ethics class) would impact their life.) that we were discussing made sense. I've also asked them to name times in which they have seen our government or society operate with the ethical theory in mind. Every now and then I would ask them if they would be able to follow it in their life.
I realize that I could have possibly failed use the "does this ethical thoery make sense" discussion. For this to work, I probably would have to ask follow up questions that would incite them to think about how the theory would look like in the world that they live in. Also, I could have had the students discuss their answers more. The issue is that this sort of thinking was often difficult for my students because they were struggling to understand the reading we were talking about. A lot of the time, I would have to spend time explaining the theory or explaining situations in which our society operates with the theory. I felt very pressured to ensure that they understood the information. I was told that the students at my school/undergraduates in general were very concerned with grades. I was told that my responsibility as a TA was to make sure that they could understand the material in a way that the professor would say makes sense. In addition to this, I felt the concerns that the students when they didn't understand it. I tied this back to their desire to do well in the class. Their concerns were very real to me so I tried to make sure that they felt comfortable with the material. I pushed fulfilling my goal to the back burner because of this.
I also wanted to integrate different standpoints into the discussions of the text. This hasn't happened because I forgot about this goal and because I have been so focused on ensuring that my students understand the material we are covering.
My third goal was that I wanted to make sure that my students didn't feel alienated from the texts. I think that many of my students feel very distanced from the texts. However, it would seem that many of them are reasoning through the texts and concluding that this is because the texts we read are inaccessible to them. So far we have read Mills, Bentham (Utilitarianism) , stuff on the Doctrine of Double Effect, and Kant on The Categorical Imperative. I am not sure about whether or not this is a good thing. They could have reasoned to that conclusion because of the questions that I ask or the statements that I make. I do want to say that my students are fairly capable of determining whether or not the ethical theory would make sense in society. They will say things like, a good society does x, y, and z. However, I am not sure if they can tie this back to the community that they live in because they talk about society in such an abstract way. Additionally, I don't think that they have ever questioned their idea of a "good society." I don't think that they know where their ideas about a good society comes from. I don't even know if they know what happens in society enough to be able to talk about those things. I think that it is a shame that I have not been able to have discussion that focus on these things. I am not sure about how I will go about making them discuss these issues going forward.
My fourth goal was that I didn't want to be the single source of power and authority over the texts. I tried to ensure this by creating fun learning activities where they did most of the talking. Sad thing is that the learning activities forced me to determine whether they were characterizing the texts in the right way. I did this for them. I wanted them to feel comfortable with the texts. I didn't want them to feel anxious or concerned that they didn't understand the texts.
But also, if the authority of the texts doesn't come from the teacher then it will go to the most talkative and extroverted students in the class. It doesn't follow that me talking less will mean that various students will feel like they can and should determine what's important from the texts. It certainly doesn't follow that me talking less will make students feel like they can or should interpret the text on their own. In order to ensure this, More has to happen. I am not sure what the "more" is.
My last goal was to teach in a way that ensured that the student who only took the class because it was mandatory and the star student would get something meaningful from the class. I have no idea if I achieved this or not. I also don't know how I would go about testing it.
Plot twist: While I don't think that I succeeded in achieving all of my goals, I can definitely say that for the most part they are able to talk about what they do and do not know. Because they head the class discussion, they will often come to a consensus that they don't understand things when they feel confused. The way this happens is that I will ask them a question and this will lead to a discussion. They will try to figure out what the philosopher was trying to convey in the discussion. They will ask me to clarify and I won't. I will tell say, "you tell me." They will then look around at each other waiting for someone to explain what's happening to the class. If this doesn't happen then they will start talking amongst each other in groups about how something doesn't make sense and why. After this has gone on for a good amount of time someone will find "the answer" or someone will pipe up and tell me why they are confused or what they think the author is trying to say and why they are confused about what was conveyed by the author.
They have also began to learn to trust themselves to think for themselves. I learned that this is necessary for students to critically engage with the texts. It is as if many students do not believe that they are capable of understanding the texts or having thoughts about it. It's as if they feel like they will be judged negatively for their opinion or that someone will dismiss them and tell them that they are wrong. This deters them from critically engaging with ideas. I think that I have somewhat been able to get my students out of this mindset. This feat is important because i was made to feel like I had anything insightful to say. It was only then that I began to really read and write.
I thinks grades are bs but I feel compelled to grade myself on my teaching so far. I wish someone could give me a grade. lol