teaching philosophy statement

by ibull

The Teaching Philosophy Statement is a document that doctoral students are often asked to iterate throughout their graduate study in order to prepare them for the job market. This is my first crack at it, written at the conclusion of my first term in Ph.D school. 


All my life, my education has been greatly informed by an exposure to critical, ethical people, who have been generous with their time and resources as they helped me ascend from various scaffolds to the person I am today. In my classroom, I work to provide those same opportunities that are often afforded to me, but in a context that is always relevant to each individual student. Students, I believe, are their own best teachers; me—I’m at best a facilitator, a classroom-designer. I work diligently to model the praxis of my teachers, but I also demand from my students the time and commitment they need to explore and understand the various facets that define different modes of problem-solving. In my classroom, I value a diverse and broad subset of knowledges, and it is in that space that I simply ask students to relate what they know (or what they think the know) to what I know and what their peers know.

I very much enjoy using games to facilitate learning; much in the same way that storytelling helps students to understand different relationships between events in space/time, games provoke a similar critical thinking process. Games design, storytelling, filmmaking—these creative modes provide a useful foundation from which to teach students various work ethics and technical skills; it also provides them with an opportunity to model—to teach, in some sense—knowledge for their peers. For me, it’s not simply that games do the work of situating knowledge (although, they do), but the production of games and other creative media provoke strategies for thinking about systems that are broadly applicable in the study of arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and socio-political engagement—among other facets of “real life.” I believe it is my role as an educator in media arts and criticism to help students develop tools and strategies for processing and innovating the Real; and, it is for this reason that I ask my students to think critically about the information and contexts they’re struggling with when they walk through the door.

Everyday, I model for my students what I think are contextually relevant social issues through the work that I do independently, and through the contexts and circumstances we deconstruct to understand theoretical ideas and concepts. Throughout the fall of 2014, for example, I facilitated a rhetorical studies and public speaking course wherein I helped students develop different public speaking assignments that contextualized a social issue that was relevant to them. A student wanted to develop ways of talking about the social and political events happening in Ferguson, Missouri, and so we often talked about how to understand the rhetoric around the murder of Michael Brown in the context of an open classroom discussion. I would ask questions that probed the relationship between Michael Brown as an ideograph and Michael Brown as a person; we discussed the various facets of justice and their relationship to rhetorical discourse. We also talked about the attributes and ideological functions of various rhetorical acts that bound our collective idea of Ferguson, Missouri as a context for understanding the relationship between prejudice and race-based discrimination, and the constitutions of justice and fairness. Of course, not all students were so captivated by the events therein, and so we also contextualized other socio-political public issues that undergraduates concern themselves with these days: the legalization of marijuana, the social components of climate change, and the unbalanced nature of gun control laws.

As banal as student interests may be from time to time, it is important to me that I provide students with multiple opportunities to reflect on the socio-political issues that are relevant to them. This reflective practice is not only necessary in building the foundations of good work ethic, but it is a precursor to their development as active, democratic citizens. In my classroom, students are required to rhetorically listen and engage with the values, beliefs, and ideas that may oppose their own. I scaffold that practice into the assignments they complete for the course, but they must also practice an inclusive ethic in our public discussions about various topics. In a public speaking course, this negotiation with students can be a delicate orchestration; at times, I preemptively police what students are about to say before they take command of our attention—students are often required to construct formal outlines before speaking extemporaneously. However, I also recognize the importance of students taking the liberty to speak freely and to navigate with their peers what acceptable discursive practices are in their shared space.

To query how students feel about the classroom environment, I always ask students for midterm feedback to get a sense of how they feel about the course content and structure. To me, this pedagogical ethic is a practice that demonstrates my willingness to listen; so, for students who don’t come to my office hours, this is their opportunity to get a word in from the comfort of their own homes. I had a 65% response rate in the fall of 2014, and these queries are anonymous and qualitative, asking both narrow and open-ended questions. To get a sense of how students feel about the discursive environment in the classroom, I ask: “Do you feel like your peers support you in your practice of public speaking?” Although the question was designed to illicit a yes/no response, each respondent in the fall of 2014 could have answered in any way they liked, having the liberty of expounding on their answer in multiple paragraphs—of course, they didn’t. But I took the unanimous affirmation, “yes,” as a meaningful gesture, all the same. I also used these responses to dialogue with my students about the various strategies and practices they use outside of the classroom to help prepare themselves for upcoming assignments. At least, one of the practices I want to improve upon is tacitly and explicitly modeling how to diagnose problems and devise workable, reasonable strategies for navigating through or around various obstacles and barriers. Although the practice of asking questions is rhetorically valuable in provoking students to reflect and engage differently over time, I also think its valuable that students are equipped to diagnose the usefulness of their questions.

When I work alongside students, I make a point to recognize my mistakes and model different strategies for learning from my missteps. One of the reasons why I enjoy teaching through design is that this pedagogical opportunity exists in abundance. The iterative process is where designers weave contexts together to construct space, language, and identity—constructs that inherently extend into the real world. Failure is a natural facet of the learning process, and it is one that I’ve come to appreciate in many different contexts in my life. Have I failed in various aspects of my pedagogy from time to time? I certainly hope so. It is from my failures that I have found great substance in the development of my identities within documentary filmmaking, broadcast television, magazine design, and game design. It is from failure that myself and others bridge and bond socially, and it is from failure that students learn the most about what they are capable of recovering from. It is in my teaching that I hope to reward students with opportunities for failure, even though they may not recognize it as such. Not because I don’t care about the value of appropriately scaffolded learning environments, but because I care about who they think they are when they walk out of our classroom.