Learning being a journey, not a destination, has always been a philosophy that has guided me as a teacher. My vision has been to train and develop thinking leaders of tomorrow. Empowering students to be high achievers and critical thinkers in pursuit of life-long excellence in this ever competitive and inter-connected world where knowledge has limited shelf life has always been my mission as a university teacher.
I believe that teaching in the University should realise one’s pedagogical philosophies as they apply to education both inside and outside the classroom. In an increasingly competitive environment with all kinds of unending demands on our time and resources, being an effective teacher is a challenging task. To rise to the challenge, it is first of all essential that the teacher have a passion for teaching. Only then can the teacher ensure that meaningful learning takes place all the time as he/she helps students to develop as morally sound and upright citizens, committed to diversity of ideas and thoughts.
In my view, good teaching produces self-confident and self-disciplined individuals who have been exposed to a core set of knowledge and ideas. To nurture such students successfully, the teacher should first possess critical thinking skills and be capable of not just transferring such skills to his/her students but also teaching them to apply the skills to novel and changing circumstances. The teacher should also arouse intellectual curiosity, train the students to develop an expertise in a given area and encourage the individual students to gain a breadth of exposure to interdisciplinary topics appropriate for the career aspirations of the individual. To achieve this, adopting innovative ways of presenting lectures can easily ignite the spark in students to go the extra mile.
To be an effective university teacher, ample time should be spent on preparing one’s course and lessons. There is no substitute for adequate preparation. A rushed, half-heartedly produced reading list or a disorganised lecture is easily exposed. Once a university teacher loses the respect of his/her students, it is rarely regained. The teacher should also be aware that his/her behaviour strongly influences the receptivity and motivation of students. I believe that my enthusiasm for the subjects I teach keeps students motivated and emotionally positive. Outside the classroom, it is important to be approachable while maintaining a marked professional distance.
As most undergraduates need a greater sense of discipline and order, they tend to associate a less formal relationship with their teachers as indicative of lower performance expectations. Thus, it is important to continually send the message that ‘we are here to work and learn’. Many students, concerned with how their peers perceive them, become paralysed by the fear to appear ‘dumb’. These students neither speak up nor ask questions in class, thus forfeiting valuable opportunities for clarification and discussion. To encourage class discussion, I intentionally create an inclusive classroom environment where all questions are good questions. One of the ways I achieve this is by admitting both my mistakes and those instances when I don’t know the answer to a question immediately (I will get the answer later). It has been my experience that such disclosures strengthen rather than erode the students’ respect for the teacher.
To help students learn and excel in the course, it is necessary for the teacher to establish concrete guidelines on course expectations, performance evaluations and conditions under which exceptions may be granted. Such information should be communicated clearly to the students at the start of the course. The teacher should help the student understand that firm adherence to these guidelines is in the best interest of those who may require help to develop self-discipline. However, if external issues (illness, family and personal problems) prevent a student from performing well and/or requiring extensions, I strongly advocate a case by case treatment of these exceptions. Such rules and guidelines should help students achieve their goals, not ‘burden’ the students especially when external circumstances have already interfered with the learning process.
Teachers are role models. A misplaced word or inappropriate action may have a damaging effect on a student for years to come. The inherent power accompanying the position demands humility and constant self-reflection to ensure that one acts with wisdom, fairness and professionalism.
In this technology age, students also expect their teachers to be technology savvy. Technology-based educational tools are attracting a great deal of interest and students expect their teachers to be able to use such tools when they teach. However, this does not mean that the teacher should use technology to convert the classroom into a cinema.
As the ‘CEO’ of a ‘knowledge corporation’, the teacher should be able to ensure that the quest for knowledge and learning continues without the teacher being present and that this becomes a way of life. Put simply, a good teacher should train his/her students to become lifelong learners capable of learning independently. This is especially important in an Asian culture where the teacher is subconsciously considered supreme. The things one learns from a teacher’s instruction are always greater than what is in the book. Teacher-student relationship is both sacred and permanent. However, with changes taking place all around us in the society, the teacher’s role should also adjust as well—from the sage of the olden days to more of a guide on the side.
To be an effective university teacher, one must maintain a high level of commitment to teaching and nurturing students while keeping abreast with the latest developments and needs. It is critical to create a warm and supportive learning environment that will ensure optimum learning. A teacher should also use appropriate assessment data for diagnostic and planning purposes and employ varying methodologies to measure student’s needs, understanding and performance. In this regard, a good pre- and post-module feedback is critical. Respecting students will also motivate them and further ensure all-round learning in and outside the classroom.
In the final analysis, as a university teacher, I believe in empowering my students to be critical thinkers and independent learners. It is my duty to simulate creativity among the students who would be the future leaders in different fields. My students should be creative, research-oriented and intellectually inquisitive. They should be passionate about learning and eventually, be able to impart knowledge to others. They should develop an unquenchable appetite for knowledge in an increasingly borderless world. Yet, they should be sound citizens with a heart for those who are less fortunate in the community. It is only when I have successfully nurtured some of the mentioned qualities in my students would I have made a difference in the students’ life as an effective teacher in NUS.