Teaching Philosophy

I concur with Karl Marx (1925) who wrote: “The choice of a profession is a great privilege of a man over the rest of creation, but at that same time it is an act which can destroy his whole life, frustrate all his plans, and make him unhappy...  The chief guide which must direct us in the choice of profession is the welfare of mankind and our own perfection.  It should not be thought that these two interests could be in conflict, that one would have to destroy the other, on the contrary, man’s nature is so constituted that he can attain his own perfection only by working for the perfection, for the good, of his fellow man...  If he works only for himself, he may perhaps become a famous man of learning, a great sage, an excellent poet, but he can never be a perfect, truly great man.”  This passage by Marx captures the essences of my philosophy that we are not alone in this world.  If I am to be successful in my career it is only if my students are successful.  Consequently, I agree with the African adage: "If you want to walk fast, walk alone, but if you want to walk far, walk with other people".  In this case the journey is with my students.

The world is becoming increasingly competitive and the young need to be better prepared for when they ‘enter’ the world and become established.  As a teacher I am here to help prepare my students for their careers, not just to impart information.  Information alone is not enough for them to be successful.  They need to be able to problem solve, multi-task and apply their minds to challenges which occur during their journey.  Therefore, my teaching philosophy is far more than just parting with "information" found in textbooks and journals.  The students need to assimilate information in a learning atmosphere so that they know the information is merely a "part" of a larger "whole" and that they should start to internalise this information and act on it, growing in knowledge and making wise choices.

Thus, I agree with Fritz Machlup (1983) that one should frown on education programmes that fill the student’s head with loads of information.  Rather one should disseminate knowledge of enduring value and should help the students develop a thirst for more knowledge, not just information.  Machlup posits that “Information is acquired by being told, whereas knowledge can be acquired by thinking”.  This leads me to ask, what is the best way for me to teach?

Upon reflection, I recall that the teachers who made an impression on me and made the subject matter come alive as they taught, had a good sense of humour.  Furthermore, I agree with the analogy that the lecture hall can indeed be likened to a theatre and the podium the stage, the students the audience and the teacher the actor.  Rather than a strict formal environment it should be light-hearted, with a bit of wit; however, control is required to ensure that it is a learning environment.  The interaction between the actor and the audience is paramount as critical thought, rather than humour, is the outcome of this "play".  Additionally, all leaving the theatre should depart with respect for each other and for each other’s views and contributions.  Having said this, it is paramount that all parties leaving the theatre have gained an insight into the subject matter and that a consensus is achieved so that the key outcomes of the discussion are clear and concise.  In other words, the "sage on the stage" needs to spend more time humanising the pedagogy.  A good "play" will ensure that those who leave it will have had their thought processes stimulated allowing them to replay in their mind what they have heard and to find other possible meanings and solutions to the matter at hand.

Conversely, to the subject matter I teach, Information Systems, lecturing is not enough.  The principles need to be practised by the students, be this in a computer laboratory or assignments.  Thus, I have realised for me to be a good teacher it does not just involve my time in front of the class.  It involves careful preparation as I plan the lecturers, discussions, practicals, assignments and assessments.  Collectively the subject matter is then taught.  Therefore, I believe that for me to be an effective teacher I need to be creative and professional.  Teaching is not just reserved for the classroom but includes supervision sessions and follow-up discussions.

In conclusion, and to refer back to Marx, I believe I have been privileged to find the profession which brings me happiness.  Working with the students, grappling with a problem, coming up with an idea (theory) and following it through to a solution.  In doing so I am sharing more than information with my students, I hope that they taste knowledge and then thirst for it thereafter.