A Philosophy of Openness

Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual Sides Come Together in Her Teaching

One of a series of occasional excerpts from "What Good Teachers Say About Teaching," a collection of essays from 83 of the winners of Berkeley's Distinguished Teaching Award.

It is difficult for me to express what makes my teaching "work." Over the years, my philosophy has become so much a part of me that it is deeply integrated into me, and at times I feel that about all I know is that I am comfortable in what I am doing.

This lack of explicitness has been exacerbated by our university culture, which has historically put less emphasis on teaching so that we have few events that force us to verbalize our philosophy. But in my case, it is also that my teaching is so much a part of me that talking about my teaching philosophy involves talking about myself in a personal way, which I find difficult to do.

I try to open in my whole person to my students. This means showing not just my intellectual side, but my emotional and spiritual sides as well. It also means being willing to admit when I am wrong and taking credit when I am right. It means being able to share in a genuine way moments of humor and moments of pain (when a student has done poorly on an exam). Above all, it means being open to students in all their peculiarities and particularities, and accepting them for who they are.

Closely related to openness is caring and sharing. I find I really care about my students as human beings, not just as people who sit in the classroom and whom I am paid to teach. I care whether or not they are able to "find themselves" and develop into the people they are intended to be.

Growing is a lifelong process, but the years spent getting an education (both at the graduate and undergraduate levels) are particularly important. It is a time of great upheaval, and therefore the possibility of important change and commitment is great. What a wonderful thing to have an opportunity as part of one's life's work to be a part of this!

I have also found that honesty is essential. Students know, even if not at a conscious level, when a teacher lacks sincerity. Although they seldom have any idea of the pressures of being a professor, or the ego gratification that comes from having all those people listen and write down every word, or the personal stresses that are involved in being continually held up as the "authority," they have an intuitive sense when they are not being treated fairly.

Finally, the essence of good teaching is found in the richness and variety of the course content. One cannot be a good teacher without a thorough knowledge of one's subject. In my case, this means not just theoretical but also practical knowledge--how the particular concepts are expressed in the world of affairs and made relevant to real-world decision making.

In summary, my philosophy could be stated as one that emphasizes both emotional and intellectual qualities. I try to present the very best content of which I am capable, but I do not believe that content is enough. I have found that being there for the student in as full a way as I am able is absolutely critical, and that means being open and honest, vulnerable and caring, and empathetic.


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