Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Teaching Philosophy

(Knowledge is that which liberates!)

The above quote from Hindu scripture, The Vishnu Purana, accurately states my teaching philosophy. I believe that the goal of education is to emancipate one’s mind from ignorance, help discover the wisdom within and outside, and apply that knowledge in different walks of life. This means that students should be able to apply the learnings from class in aspects of their lives other than academia. Hence I work to relate classroom teaching to its real-world application.

Coming from a constructivist worldview, I see students as active participants in the process of learning. They create and organize knowledge based on their experiences instead of passively receiving pre-existing knowledge of the world. The role of the teacher is to provide the students with opportunities and resources which can facilitate the process of knowledge creation.

In order to help students create their own knowledge, I encourage discussion among their peers in my classrooms. With this view, most times my role is just to guide the discussion in right direction. I try to mold the conversation in such a way that students can identify the broad themes themselves and encourage them to speak their opinions about a topic under consideration. Thus it ensures that they actively participate in knowledge creation instead of passively receiving the information from me. I also ensure the classroom environment is friendly and their opinions are considered and valued. I make the class environment jovial and engaging by regularly telling jokes and talking to students about their out of class activities. In order to make sure that students’ opinions are respected, I incorporate students’ responses during discussions.

The practice of respecting students’ opinions is reflected in my grading too. While I tell them where they could have improved their assignments, I make sure to point out what I liked about their work. While grading numerical problems, I stress reasoning and logic and not just the correct answer. This is why I encourage students to explain their though process especially when they are trying to solve numerical problems.

The way a student creates knowledge is related to their family and cultural background, proficiency in the medium of instruction, classroom context etc., which means each student creates a sense of the world in a different way as each student comes from a unique background. My aim is to understand these complexities and shape my instruction to cater to the needs of each student. In order to better understand each student, I take a short break during each class session where I ask one student to talk to the entire class about themselves and share their likes and dislikes, their hobbies, their aspirations and other interesting details about them with the class. I also organize movie nights and dinner events for the class so that students can spend time with one another in informal settings. These activities not only help me know them better but also open up an avenue for students to talk and be friends with each other, and hence become comfortable in classroom.

Moving beyond instruction, I believe that the relationship between and a teacher and his students is not just limited to the classroom settings. Students, at times, look up to their teachers for guidance in other walks of life. I try to become a friend, an advisor and a mentor to my students. I spend a lot of time and energy in creating a comfortable space between me and my students so that they feel free to share their concerns with me. This is why I strongly encourage students to see me during office hours and take a keen interest in their overall development.

I regularly take oral and written feedback from the students about my teaching and their understanding of the course content. I also sometimes ask my colleagues to observe my classes and suggest improvements. By reflecting on my teaching and incorporating the suggestions given by my students and my colleagues, I continually try to improve my teaching.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Customary New Year Blog Post!!!

I have been away from blogging for almost six months and hence I was a big deal for me to break the inertia to start writing a blog-post. But I had to break that inertia because I want to start writing again. And what can be a better day to restart my activity on blogosphere. Moreover, the past year was so full of internal joy, peace and happiness that it would be unfair if I do no cement my gifts from the past year by writing them here. This is a break from my usual New Year posts where I would write about some philosophical wisdom and will eventually decide to follow that philosophy. I think this is an apt change because a lot of times what happens with our lives is completely unexpected and not according to our plan.

Without further ado, let me now briefly talk about some of the most beautiful things which happened to me last year in no particular order. It should be noted that a lot of these things are related to each other in that one of these things was affected or influenced by the other or one led to the other.

1. Instructor at Virginia Tech
I was the instructor for ENGE 1215 (Foundations of Engineering-1) during Fall 2014. Teaching 56 beautiful students was very satisfying. I believe that I love someone when I am ready to go to any extent for their happiness and success, and I felt the same for each of my students. Moreover, it was extremely gratifying whenever any of my students told me that they enjoyed being in my class.

2. Friends
I believe friends occupy a very important aspect of my life. Last year I made a few friends who I can rely on in case of any need. If you are my friend and you are reading this, I promise you I will be with you every time you need me.

3. Self-Identity
Last year, I was able to free myself with years of guilt and agony over my own self-identity. I tried to openly embrace who I am and it was a feeling like no other. I am extremely happy that I got the required support from the people around me to do this.

4. AcrossBorders@VT
I along with my friend Hoa started a group at Virginia Tech to provide support to those people who identify themselves as part of sexual minority and were born and brought up in a non-American culture.

I have purposefully written only a few sentences under each of the above-mentioned headings. If you are interested in any of these aspects of my life, please feel free to talk more about it with me. I absolutely love talking about any of these things.
And to close it, I would just say:

“Life is beautiful and there is love in the air, enjoy the life and feel the love!”