Like most teachers, I want to ensure that my students achieve core competency with the material in the courses I teach. But good teaching involves so much more than helping students learn course material. I strive to foster critical thinking skills among my students, to stimulate their ability to solve problems and think deeply about a wider range of potential solutions than may occur to them naturally. As a criminologist, I push my students to think about criminal justice policies and practices in new ways. I encourage them to question traditional ways of addressing crime, and to evaluate the wisdom and effectiveness of criminal justice policies and practices both theoretically and empirically.
To accomplish these objectives, I rely on several interconnected strategies. First, and most importantly, I try to establish a human connection with my students. Nobody wants to learn from a robotic teacher. Second, I believe strongly in the use of active learning principles to maintain student interest and attention. Third, I rely heavily on humor and anecdotes to help anchor the concepts I am attempting to convey in the classroom. Just as in public speaking, I find it important to "read the audience" and know when to stick to the lesson plan and when to go off-script. The overall goal is to create a classroom atmosphere in which students feel relaxed, engaged, and interested. Not much learning happens when students feel bored, stressed, or isolated. I want them to know they are in good hands and that the journey will be worth the effort.
In assessing student learning, I typically rely on four approaches. First, every course involves some level of factual recall, so I hold students accountable in assignments and exams for that basic dimension of learning. Second, writing is a vital skill for all college graduates, especially for students seeking an advanced degree, so I encourage students to write well and I coach them when they struggle. Third, the ability to speak in public and communicate verbally is also a vital skill. As part of my active learning curriculum, I require students to participate openly and regularly in class discussions and exercises and I provide them with feedback. Finally, problem-solving is a vital skill in all walks of life, and I like to create assessment tools for measuring students' ability to solve substantive problems related to the curriculum.
Teaching is a wonderful opportunity to cross paths with people from all walks of life and share with them what I've learned while at the same time learning from them. I am inspired by the idea of touching people's lives and passing something along to them that they didn't have before. Maybe that something is a new set of facts, but hopefully it is something broader, like a new perspective, a new skill, or a new way of looking at the world.