The first class I ever attended that truly influenced my philosophy on teaching was an upper-level university class I took on the history of the Civil War. My professor, an older man who spent the entire class leaning against the chalkboard, forgoing any use of technology to aid his lecture, ordered the class to put away all technology and pull out paper to take handwritten notes. He began his hour and a half detailed lecture, all from memory, about the possible causes of the Civil War. His use of the word “possible” is what first caught my interest and held my attention rest of the semester, for he laid out all of the possible reasons for the start of the Civil War. He quoted facts and figures for each item on his list, bolstering his arguments for each item, and then slowly picked apart his own argument. At the end, he informed the class that by the end of the semester we would still not know the exact reason for the outbreak of the Civil War because there is no real way to know why things happened. All we can do is listen to the lectures, read the assigned readings, and develop our own interpretations and understanding of this important chapter in American history.
This revelation was powerful for me. As a sophomore history major, I had yet to take a history course that encouraged me to challenge any preconceived notions I had about major historical events or figures, to challenge my professor directly, or to challenge my own methods of reading and understanding history. More than anything, this class impressed upon me that history is interpretation and that it is imperative to teach students how to “best” interpret history, using a combination of primary and secondary sources, empirical data, theory, oral history, and more. The purpose of teaching history is to encourage others to challenge narratives, concepts, and explanations, and problematize “accepted” notions, stereotypes, and theories. I want to teach history because I want students to learn about lesser-known stories, the histories of individuals that shaped larger trends in history, and encourage students to develop mindful conclusions and discuss their conclusions with each other and others.
My actual teaching method would include a brief lecture at the beginning of each class to provide students with the necessary context for concepts or events being studied that day. I believe this part is crucial because too many professors assume their students know more than they do, and history students must understand the basic terms and facts in the field before moving forward. Unlike my revelatory course which was just a lecture, I think it best to combine each lecture with a classroom discussion or interactive exercise so that students apply what they just learned in a practical way. Interactive exercises will also help them synthesize and integrate new information with old ideas and encourage them to think creatively. By incorporating primary documents, secondary sources, and my own interpretation into each lecture, students will be challenged with multiple perspectives in history, forcing them to think holistically and develop an informed historical understanding of the past.
My teaching goals include fostering student’s academic and personal development in higher education, focusing specifically on high order thinking skills, imparting history-specific knowledge and critical-thinking skillsets, and impressing upon them the importance of the liberal arts and the value of academia and academic thinking. In my class, I want students to improve their analytical, writing, and speaking skills as these talents will translate into a variety of different fields and disciplines. By encouraging independent thinking, group work, and open-mindedness, my ultimate goal is to foster student’s confidence in their own abilities and create a life-long love of learning and challenging ideas.