Teaching Philosophy: A How To Guide
Teaching Philosophy – First Day
The first day of your class will set the tone for teaching philosophy, and it’s important to be very deliberate about this from the beginning. Make sure to be friendly and approachable as soon as students come in. Students will be looking at you to gather a first impression, so you should also consider the signals you send out with your attire. If you want a relaxed and informal learning environment, you should dress accordingly. If you want your class to be more formal and rigorous, your outfit should reflect that too.
The first day is important and you have a lot to achieve within the timeframe. You should firstly introduce yourself, but also find a way to learn something about each individual student. Perhaps you could pass around an information card for them to fill in.
Unless you are under pressure from other members of faculty, then you should probably just forget about going through the syllabus on the first day. You can distribute the syllabus information to the class on a hand out, and postpone discussion of it until the next class once your students have had a chance to read it.
Instead, you should find an exercise where students can get to know each other a little bit during the first day. If your students feel isolated from each other then they will undoubtedly have more trouble learning they would than if they were more integrated and friendly with each other. Students of a similar age group tend to naturally become friends, but it’s wise to give them a bit of a helping hand at least initially.
The ideal solution is to have your students split up into groups and engage in a short discussion. Discussion is fundamental to the understanding of philosophy and it’s good for your students to get used to it as soon as possible. It’s also a good way to create an engaging first lesson where you aren’t they only one talking.
You should give each group a copy of a short philosophical case study. This should be some way related to the syllabus of the class. For introductory or high school classes an ethical dilemma is a good starting point. You should only give each group one copy of the text, that way the students will be forced to work together right away. You should also give them some questions about the discussion. Get your students to consider what evidence can be used to back up their beliefs. Your students should also consider whether or not most people would agree with them.
As well as creating an interesting and engaging first lesson for your students, it’s also a fantastic way for you to get to know the students. By observing how the students react during the discussion, you quickly determine some basic facts about them. You can discover who the introverts and extroverts are, and who is articulate and who has problems expressing themselves. You will also find out who discusses issues passionately, and who takes a more measured and calm approach. These are all incredibly valuable things to learn about your students, and the quicker the better.
Teaching Philosophy – Giving Good Lectures
There are many different teaching philosophies when it comes to teaching philosophy. If you feel that your teaching style is likely to revolve around lectures, then it’s important that you make them good ones.
There has been a lot of criticism lately about lectures as a teaching style. Many people feel like student attention spans are too short for the traditional fifty-minute lecture. While this might be corroborated by your own observations, it doesn’t mean you should abandon lectures entirely.
The best way to deal with flagging attentions is to break up the lectures every fifteen minutes and encourage student participation. Don’t just ask “any questions?” and expect to see a sea of hands. Most students are scared of their teachers to some extent, but literally terrified of each other. You can’t expect them to put themselves forward out of nowhere. You have to create more structured opportunities for students to participate.
Just because they are structured doesn’t mean they necessarily have to be complex, however. Lots of philosophy teachers have success with getting their students to think about the arguments for a moment, then pair up and discuss them.
When teaching philosophy examples, you should be careful about the analogies that you use. Remember that your students have many different backgrounds, and may be from very different cultures. It might be tempting to use pop culture to appeal to younger students, but you will have better luck if you use universal concepts that anyone can understand.
You should try to get feedback from students in a way that doesn’t exclude even the most introverted among your students. The best way to do that is to take a vote. Ask for a show of hands of who agrees with the argument you are discussing, and who disagrees with it.
You should be constantly looking around the room, and not starting at your lecture notes. You’ll never engage with your students if your nose is buried in a piece of paper. Try and lecture from the heart, and not from the page. Your students will appreciate it a lot more if you let your personality shine through.
You can also use this to spot the least engaged student in the room, and to try to engage him or her. Disrupt your flow, tell a joke or just speak louder. However you can get that student to perk up, do it.
Speaking of jokes, humor can be an incredibly important tool in teaching philosophy, but you have to use it wisely. Feel free to be self-deprecating, but never be negative about students. If you are making a joke about students, do it about the students as a whole, and don’t single out one person.
Teaching Philosophy – Class Discussion
Class discussion is just as important as lecturing, and is the only way you’ll be able to develop critical thinking faculties in your students. However, it can sometimes be hard to get students to participate.
You might find that your students just don’t seem interested in the material. This is particularly true in classes that students may have been forced to take, rather than through a genuine interest in philosophy. The best way to deal with this is to choose material that will engage students. It can be difficult to do this when working within the confines of a tight syllabus, and it might be difficult to predict what type of discussion material will engage students. You should start by teaching philosophy examples that are based in the real world, and build discussion points around these. With time, and trial and error, you will get better at recognizing the type of discussions that will engage students.
You might find that with some students you have the opposite problem. They are so engaged with the material, and so willing to participate, that they dominate the discussion and leave little time for other students to get a word in! This can be a huge problem, especially if you let these students get your discussion off track. You should make sure that you don’t spend a lot of time dealing with unusual or irrelevant questions, and try to spend time with these individuals outside of the class.
Students can often be afraid of giving the “wrong” answer. You should emphasize that there are no wrong answers in philosophy by asking them open questions. Try questions like “What does this mean to you?” and “How would you apply this thinking to real life situations?”
Teaching Philosophies – Personality
You don’t have to be loved universally by your students to be a good teacher, but your personality will make a big impact on how effectively they learn.
You should generally try to be a positive person. Never make negative remarks to the students you are teaching. You should work especially hard to never show any impatience with students failing to understand the concepts that you are teaching them.
It should go without saying, but you should set a moral example for the students in your care. Never make sexually suggestive comments to students, and you should certainly never engage in a sexual relationship with a student.
You might find yourself becoming fond of certain students in a friendly way. This is absolutely normal, but you must never let it affect how you objectively assess their work. Make sure to apply your policies about late work and other issues with students universally.