It may be unorthodox to quote an animated character in the first paragraph of a teaching philosophy, but I’m going to do it anyway. Master Shifu, in Kung Fu Panda 3, told his young disciple Po, “I'm not trying to turn you into me. I'm trying to turn you into you.” While this statement took Po the majority of the movie to decipher, I immediately understood its meaning and knew that it was the best way to summarize my teaching philosophy. My purpose as a teacher is not to turn out as many clones of myself as possible—all with the same knowledge, goals, and ways of thinking. My purpose, instead, is to present myself as an example and a resource and to guide my students to synthesize information with their own unique skills and viewpoints.
My philosophy is strongly rooted in constructionism. I feel my role as a teacher is to provide information to my students and allow them the freedom to construct what they can with that information. To facilitate this philosophy, I spend a considerable amount of time getting to know my students’ individual skills and goals. I feel it is important to determine, with each individual student, why each should take my class and how it can help his or her life and future career. If I have a clear idea of this, it allows me to alter my method of teaching to reflect their individual needs. I must always remain up-to-date on current technology and techniques, or I will not be able to provide my diverse students with the building blocks they need to construct the information in their particular context.
This philosophy has been shaped by my experience teaching multiple disciplines to diverse groups of students. I have taught mathematics, game art, programming, and various other skills to students attending middle school, high school, and college as well as adult learners attending workshops for personal and professional reasons. I’ve taught online, in-person, in a hybrid setting, in panels and workshop, and in a corporate environment. I’ve taught to extremely large groups and extremely small. Regardless of the setting or the student population, this philosophy has helped me to guide my students to positive outcomes.
Students studying mathematics tend to fall into two categories: those who want to be there and those who have to be there. This dichotomy among the student population can be quite difficult to manage, but following the principals of my philosophy help me teach them effectively no matter their inclination. My goal as a math teacher is not to turn every student into a mathematician, but to show them how learning math can enrich their lives. If not by purely practical application, then by learning problem solving skills that can be carried over into other disciplines. If some of them happen to turn into mathematicians afterward, that’s just icing on the cake. The key is to present the material to them in a way that is accessible and at their level, while avoiding condescension and judgement.
Students of game design and programming tend to be highly creative and want the chance to express that creativity as frequently as possible. By presenting students with the material and allowing them to make their own decisions about what they make within the context of the assignment, students are excited to begin the work and proud of the outcome. I frequently tell my game design students, “Diversity in the input leads to quality in the output.” Their different ways of approaching a problem and different ideas of what a good game should be are essential to growth in the industry.