I think it is more important to teach in a scholarly way, than to be a scholar who teaches. Teaching must imbibe critical thinking, much less the mere transmission of facts. It marks the difference between scholarly learning and information acquisition.
Teaching and research are related. I have found that teaching topics different from my area of research has led to novel research, since it gives pause for reflection on new questions. It is also easy to teach one’s own research in a scholarly way. Such teaching is always emotionally charged, richer in experience, better informed, and more critical. I believe that good researchers make good scholarly teachers, and an active research program is essential to creative teaching.
I view teaching as a process of joint responsibility of teacher and students. Hence, I prefer the Socratic method over the lecture approach in the classroom. It calls for the students to take responsibility for discussion and their own learning. They need to prepare before class, and it raises questions in class, leaving many unanswered, so that thinking does not stop asked once class is over. The two-way Socratic form fosters retention of ideas, while the one-way lecture may not.
Teaching to think is more important than teaching to know. Facts change, and knowledge becomes obsolete; however, thought process is adaptable. I try very hard to make sure that my class plans are directed towards “How we should think about today’s topic” versus “What is there to know about the topic.” Students have responded well to this.
I try to teach the “whole” person, and have fun doing it. In the Socratic approach, you cannot avoid the student’s biases, and other influences, and this is not a disadvantage. Students, via discussion, often connect the class to other courses, and one must be careful not to circumscribe the discussion by overly specifying the boundaries. Moreover, it is more fun, and the feeling of freedom the students have is its own reward.
I tell my students not to be afraid to make mistakes in class. I want them to understand that I give high grades for class participation when someone takes a risk and makes a mistake. There is tremendous learning for all from one person’s misconceptions. It helps even more when they point out my mistakes.
Finally, I like to set demanding standards for the courses I teach. My courses are designed to be challenging in the level of course material and thought process. I teach to the upper portion of the class, and believe that the weaker students will work harder and improve their performance. Students rise to the expectation levels we set for them. I prefer to teach rigorously, and to foster thinking and technique. I believe this approach separates the best students from the others, while increasing the number of good students.