I joined the Department of Pharmacy as a lecturer
in 1989. The department is a closely-knitted 'pharmily' with a relatively small student population.
Though I did not have any formal training in
teaching before I started, I was blessed with good mentors who provided me with a lot of guidance
and encouragement, which have certainly helped
shape my teaching philosophy-to make learning
meaningful and enjoyable.
Pharmacy is a professional course and it is critical
to equip its students with a body of knowledge
essential for professional practice. Hence, one of
my goals in teaching is to impart knowledge to
students. The other more challenging goals I set
for myself include stimulating students' interest in
the subject and equipping them with the skills for
lifelong learning. I also attempt to hone their critical
thinking and communication skills to ensure that
students can stand on their own feet when they enter
The teaching goals I have set for myself are logical
but not exceptional. Though there are many
strategies I can use to achieve these goals, what is
most important to me is that my students must feel
comfortable with the teaching methodology I adopt.
My style of teaching can be described as student-centred
and personal. In this article, I would like to
share my thoughts on how I relate with my students
in their learning expedition.
I make it a point to put myself in the students' shoes
when I design teaching materials. I imagine myself
attending lessons that are difficult to follow twice
a week over a few months. In these classes, there is
hardly any learning though the teacher faithfully
teaches. Such lessons not only kill students' interest
and guarantee frustration, they are also a sheer
waste of the students' as well as the teacher's time.
Hence, I pitch my teaching at the right level as I
do not believe in overloading my students with
too much information. It is more important to
cover the fundamentals well using good examples
and illustrations, than to attempt to cover a lot of
information and overwhelm students. Providing a
set of concise and comprehensive handouts or a list
of recommended reference books is also useful for
students who wish to know more.
Interest and motivation are important components
of learning. An effective way of stimulating
students' interest in the subject is to help them see
the subject's relevance to the real world using real
life examples for illustrations. If the teacher can get
students interested in the subject, they are likely to
be motivated learners too. Motivation is as important
as interest in the learning expedition. Thus, I
encourage my students to ask questions and I praise
them for their contributions. At the end of most of
my lectures, I like to pose challenging questions to
make students think more about what they have
just learnt. Sometimes, I throw in a can of coke or
a bar of chocolate as a prize for the best answer.
Everyone in my class knows that no question is too
silly and no suggestion will be scoffed at. One of the
'fatal' mistakes a teacher can possibly commit is to
make students feel stupid and worthless.
A conducive environment for learning is essential.
Though an air-conditioned lecture theatre with
comfortable seats and state-of-the-art audiovisual
facilities will impress students, these will not be
adequate to hold their attention after some time.
Studies have shown that the most students' minds
start to stray after 15-20 minutes. A personal touch,
humour and anecdotes can go a long way in engaging
students. As a teacher, I feel happy when my students
remember my name long after they have graduated.
Similarly, students are happy when the teacher
remembers their names. Therefore, I try my best to
remember the names of all my students though this
is becoming increasingly difficult as the class grows
bigger. Sometimes my ageing memory fails me, but
students know that I tried and they appreciate it.
Every batch of students is different. What works
perfectly for one batch may not be so for another.
It is therefore important to seek students' feedback
from time to time: "Can you hear me clearly from
the last row?" "Am I speaking too fast?" "Are you
comfortable with the pace of my lecture?" These
are some questions I frequently ask my classes. The
students' spontaneous response to these questions
enables me to adjust the volume of my voice and
the pace of my lectures accordingly. Most students
tend to keep quiet when they are asked: "Do you
understand the explanation?" Hence, the teacher has
to be able to read the students' body language and
quiz them to find out their level of understanding.
In addition, I try to find out how students are coping
with their studies, how I can help them achieve their
goals and I welcome suggestions on how I can help
them learn more effectively.
I have been enjoying wonderful partnerships with
my students so far and I am glad that they appreciate
the efforts I put into my teaching. More importantly,
students have learnt what they are taught-an
ultimate measure of effective teaching. This is the
essence of student-centred teaching. I have enjoyed
my 16 years of teaching at the department and I am
looking forward to many more good years!