Reflective Statement of Teaching Philosophy
I believe the major underlying goal of the liberal arts undergraduate curriculum should generally be the development of the mind of students as it manifests itself in the their mental capabilities. These include the ability to rationally analyze, to deduce logical conclusions, and to creatively express thoughts orally and in writing. Within that context, studying any specific field such as chemistry may then be viewed as a means for the students to work towards the general goal of mind development. Indeed, scientific concepts are often challenging to understand, and the rewards in mastering scientific concepts are thus manifold. Learning new scientific concepts and how to apply them in real life situations in the laboratory promotes the ability of critical thinking and fosters analytical problem solving skills. It improves communication skills, since students develop ways to organize their thoughts, and concepts are only truly understood if they can express them in their own words.
I also believe that the likelihood for long-term retention of scientific course material is proportional to the depth of conceptual understanding. It is easy to forget some vocabularies but once a concept is understood it usually stays in memory for a long time. It is also easier to remember essential vocabulary in light of an underlying picture that offers memory-triggering associations. Indeed, cognitive scientists distinguish between the initial more superficial state of learning, where the students are familiar with the subject, and the more in-depth understanding of material where students are able to apply their knowledge (Willingham, D. T. American Educator, 2003, summer issue, 37-42). Therefore, I see the goal of teaching the specific subject matter of chemistry actually as two-fold, or two-stepped: a) planting the "initial seed" in the minds of my students who usually encounter for the first time new learning material of considerable complexity and b) moving my students as much as possible beyond the superficial state of understanding towards in-depth understanding.
While the complexity of chemistry subject matter gives rise to ample opportunity for the students to develop their minds, it also makes studying chemistry a very confrontational task to the students. Specifically, just as chemistry research is often an iterative trial-and-error-process so is the study of chemistry. One usually has to make many false attempts in order to find the right way. However, making mistakes can easily give rise to frustration, and it takes personal strength not to give up right away. I am not under the illusion that I, as the teacher, can spare my students from this confrontational part of learning. I can help them through the process, but I can’t take it away from them. Therefore, it is important for the students to realize their responsibility to actively engage and to remain engaged in the learning process. In turn, I see it as my main responsibility as teacher to encourage and promote the learning engagement of the students, all the while pointing out the benefits to the students to engage in such depth of learning as it promotes the development of their mind.