At the beginning of each class I teach, I tell students what I believe the purpose of a university education really is. In a joking fashion, I explain that at some point in life, they are going to find themselves at some sort of a fancy cocktail party, making small conversation with very important people. Within this conversation, they are going to have to somehow make themselves sound smart, and the purpose of a university education, and my goal as a teacher, is to prepare them for that cocktail party. Although this hypothetical cocktail party is primarily meant to inject humor at the beginning of a semester, it nonetheless underscores a fundamental aspect of my teaching philosophy, which is that a university education is most valuable in the moments when it moves beyond the classroom from which it originates.
One of the ways that my teaching philosophy encourages the transfer of skills and knowledge to beyond the classroom is through a strong emphasis on writing skills. I believe that it is important that all students are able to write effectively–ranging from the simple mechanics of spelling, grammar, and style, to the more abstract skills of crafting convincing arguments. Because I teach lower-division introductory courses, the writing skills that I help my students develop will continue to serve them throughout the rest of their academic careers. Even within the public speaking classroom, where the majority of student assessment is through the delivery of speeches, I emphasize the importance of writing skills. For example, I spend an entire class session on how to properly cite sources, and format a works cited page; proper formatting is a large component of students’ grades on their written speech outlines. By emphasizing writing skills such as these, I hope to prepare students to succeed beyond my classroom. By practicing how to organize and articulate their ideas, my students are prepared for both the hypothetical cocktail party, as well as
I also believe in the importance of cultivating a supportive community and maintaining a culture of mutual respect. This is a key part of my own classroom management, but also helps students feel more comfortable with their speaking environment, and possibly overcome aspects of their own communication apprehension. One way that I foster this environment is through the use of peer evaluations for student speeches. For each speaker, I ask students to write a few brief sentences to summarize their thoughts. I don’t explicitly tell them to leave positive or negative comments, but merely to “leave the type of comments that you would like to receive.” In these peer evaluations, students have been supportive to one another, while also offering genuine constructive criticism. This is a key component of my teaching philosophy not only because of the benefits that it brings to the public speaking classroom, but because it is also an important adult life skill.
Finally, I place a strong emphasis on student independence and designing my teaching to help students transition from the K-12 environment and become independent learners. Course policies that may seem overly strict are intended to develop each student’s independent responsibility. I require that students submit electronic copies of their speech outlines prior to their delivery, and do not allow them to give the speech if the submission is missing. Because students choose and sign up for their own speech date and time, I hold them responsible for the deadline that they selected. Some students have asked me about why I am firm about this specific course policy, but I stand by it as an important way to encourage student responsibility and independence.
To keep course content engaging and understandable to students, I use the example of the hypothetical cocktail party. It gives students a somewhat humorous frame through which to visualize how they can utilize the things they learn outside of the classroom and beyond. Though humorous, this cocktail party nonetheless underscores my teaching philosophy’s emphasis on students taking specific course content, and utilizing it beyond my classroom alone.