I Didn’t Know I HAD a Teaching Philosophy

by Andy Wood on July 3, 2010

in Enlarging Your Capacity, Five LV Laws, Insight, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Legacy

December 16, 1983.  I walked across a stage in Ft. Worth, Texas to receive my Get-out-of-Jail degree.  The moving vans had already left town, and when we drove into the parking lot to get my cap and gown, the car was loaded with luggage.  This would be the day I put Texas – and school – in the rearview mirror.  I was sick of both.

But my weariness and frustrations blinded me to some lessons I began to learn as the boxes were put away in our new home in Jackson, Alabama.  I learned that in all my learning, I loved to learn.  And through the years in youth ministry and pastoral leadership, I loved to teach.

That said, I made a shocking discovery recently.  Counting the classes I’m engaged with now, I have taught 54 courses and nearly 775 students on a Master’s, Bachelor’s , or Extension level.

Oh… and I’ve lived in Texas for the last 14 years.

Recently somebody asked me to write out my philosophy of teaching.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn I actually had one.  Here is what I wrote:

There is no more thankless job, other than that of parent, than being a teacher.  Teachers, both formal and informal, are often seen as means to end – a necessary evil that stands between a student and his goal of a degree, career advancement, or, in younger years, freedom from school.

At the same time, there is no more rewarding job, other than perhaps that of a pastor or counselor, because of the way an effective teacher can see the difference he or she is making over the short and long haul in the lives of students.  Whether in a classroom or a pulpit, a laboratory or a corporate office suite, every leader stands on the shoulders of others who have taught, modeled, challenged, or restored him or her.

My philosophy of teaching rests on five critical foundations that, if I’m not careful, become soapbox issues to me.  Those foundations are as follows:

1.  Teaching matters as much as research.

That’s not a very popular or endearing principle in some circles, where faculty research and publication are the merit badges most prized.  I get that.  But if I ever reach the point where students are a necessary evil that I have to endure between publications and research projects, it’s time to do something different, as far as I am concerned.

Teaching is an investment in the thinking, skills and character of a new generation of students.  It’s an opportunity to multiply one’s influence.  I find myself today quoting professors and teachers I had more than thirty years ago.  In the words of the writer of Hebrews, they, being dead, still speak.

2.  Education – particularly adult education – requires more than a “sage on the stage.”

Years ago, I was in between careers and doing some heavy-duty assessments in terms of what I was really good at and passionate about.  The thing that kept coming up was something to do with communicating truth with passion and clarity.  I tried to explain all this to my very-practical mother.

Her assessment:  “So what you’re saying is, you want to get paid to talk.”

Well, yes.  And if today’s assignment was to stand in front of a group of students on any level and talk for three hours, I would actually enjoy doing it.  And – dare I say it? – I would do it well.

But that doesn’t mean I have educated anybody.  Education involves communication, and that’s a two-way street.  Students must be given the opportunity (and accountability) for digging, thinking, and (please!) writing out the results of their digging and thinking.  They must be free to ask questions – not just to get shortcut answers, but to contribute to the learning process.  Otherwise the “sage” finds himself answering questions that no one is asking.  Which leads me to…

3.  Application matters as much or more than theory.

It turns out – surprise, surprise – that when everybody whined in high school Algebra about whether we would ever use this in “real life,” the answer is yes, we do.  The same is true about the howl that routinely goes up over Statistics and Research Methods.

But it is incumbent on the teacher to help students make the connection.  If I don’t approach a subject or even a class lecture with the answer to the “so what” question, then I haven’t prepared enough.

Application means going beyond theory to practical skill, but not necessarily doing it all for the students.  For example, if I was teaching a course on birdhouse design and construction, I could talk about the theory of wood vs. plastic design, single unit housing vs. hotels, or martins vs. bluebirds.  As a result, my class could pass the course and never build a birdhouse.

On the other hand, after discussing all that, I could give everyone a birdhouse, or a birdhouse catalogue.  Still, no one would ever necessarily build a birdhouse.

But if I gave them a tool box, and taught them to design their own, then required that they actually build their own, then showed them some tools they could refer back to in the future, everybody wins.  They have developed a skill.  I have developed birdhouse builders.  And the martins and bluebirds can move out of government housing.

4.  Correction – sometimes in firm ways – is part of the process.

Everybody in my class gets a score of 100, until they give me reasons not to give them one.  Fortunately, I get plenty of reasons.

When I was studying for my doctorate, I once submitted a paper, for which I received a score of 91.  In the next class, the sequential nature of the program made it appropriate (though not advisable) to submit essentially the same paper.  I got a 59.

I sent a two-word email to my professor:  “That’s discouraging.”

He replied, “Why should you be discouraged?  Look at the opportunities you have here to learn!”

Guess who I asked to serve as my dissertation chair?  The tough one, of course.  He’s still a hero to me, for the same reason that when my son (a graduate student himself) returns to his old high school, the teacher he always wants to talk to is the one who was almost sadistically tough on him.

I labor over bad grades, and even more over flunking someone.  But it’s worth it when they keep coming back, trying to get it right.  More than once, I have passed students who failed out on two previous occasions.  And I was so glad I didn’t lower the standard the first two times.  The satisfaction and self-confidence they received, to say nothing of the course content, was worth it.

5.  Heart and soul are just as vital in the education process as mind.

I teach unapologetically from a Christian worldview.  Whether it’s a course in business ethics or a course in church leadership, I recognize that the stewardship I have been given goes far beyond academics.  I have the opportunity to use my pastor’s heart to support, encourage, pray for, counsel and walk through a sliver of life with my students.

This is true for students of any age, but I am particularly fond of adult learners.  Nobody has to convince them that an education is important.  These mid-life, mid-career professionals often work 40-60 hours a week, have a spouse and 2-3 kids at home, and on top of that are taking my class and three or four others.  In spite of their sick gluttony for punishment, they are heroes to me.  I respect their drive and their desire to create a more desirable future for themselves and their families.

I also respect that life happens.  So when a student writes me today to say she has a virus, I have the opportunity to tell her that there are more important things in life than my assignments.  I have the chance to remind her that she is loved and prayed for.

My role as a teacher is to be one of those previously-mentioned shoulders for my students to stand on – to help lift them to places of greater influence and effectiveness.  No greater honor could be given to that role than to have a gloriously successful leader or shaper of contemporary life asked the secret to his or her success, and for them to offer the reply:

“I once had a teacher.”

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa July 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I think posting is very encouraging to others. We all can take note from this posting for several reasons. One, I like how as you pursued your calling of moving and teaching, and along the way discovered another talent that God had blessed you with. Also, I like how you share your philosophy with others. I think that is a very valuable skill, to continue learning and teaching.

Dee Rountree July 5, 2010 at 9:38 am

Your philosophy creates a new level of excitement to my goal of completing this degree in a gainful way. I’ve said many times I am not looking for a certificate to hang on the wall or some letters, behind my name – I’m looking for an education.

I truly appreciate your theory on multiplicity. I believe that it why God gave each one of us special talents – to pass on what we have in such a way that others benefit from it – we can take it or leave it. Your philosophy on speaking, application and correction in regards to your students and creating the best learning environment are right on in my book.

Thank you from a student who is seeking teachers who are here to create an environment in which I will learn.

Gary Mason August 24, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Will you be my professor for my senior research class in OLAM/Leadership at Regent, PLEASE?

Debbie Baskin March 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

I really appreciated your views on teaching! Thanks for sharing this post with the class!
Debbie Baskin´s last blog post ..Going Vegan!

Vance June 23, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Dr. Wood: I love how you explain your Teaching Philosophy. It inspires me to be my very best as an adult-learner. God Bless You!

Patricia Garcia October 20, 2013 at 2:02 am

Dr. Wood, you are awesome! You are truly the most inspirational teacher I have ever had (and I am 43). I hope I get to take more classes from you before I am finished at Regent!

romester ushery December 16, 2013 at 11:40 am

I found this reading to be very encouraging as well as inspirational,

Elsie Sandidge January 17, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I trust I will leave your class as excited as your previous students!

Rosemarie Stanislaus June 13, 2014 at 10:16 pm

I pray that I my learning experience in your class would be as rewarding as the motivation and inspiration that I got from reading your article. I look forward to being in your class this Summer.

Rosa Powell December 20, 2014 at 8:33 am

I am touched by the words of the page. I am a “teacher of teachers” and I was elated to listen as you poured out your heart. I felt the sincerity of your words as they meshed with the data on the hard drive of my brain, which is connected by USB ports to my heart and soul.

Ebony January 12, 2015 at 8:09 am

God bless you. What an amazing teaching philosophy. I wrote mine over almost 15 years ago and it is still true but I want to add to it. I appreciate your statement on application. As an online student, I wish there were ways that we could connect with our school programs to apply our skills.

Cecilia F August 25, 2015 at 7:31 pm

Mr. Wood,

I chose to read your article because I wanted to know a little bit more about my professor since taking online classes can become discouraging at times. I miss the interactions between my teachers and my class mates; however, reading your article has inspired me to be a better teacher myself. Everything I learn will soon be passed down to either my siblings, my friends, random strangers I’ll meet and maybe someday, my own kids. Thank you for expanding my world of knowledge just a little more. I look forward to these next 8 weeks with you!

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