Statement of teaching philosophy
Teaching is an intimate occupation. GPA, jobs, quality of life, student free time, and more are directly related to the teacher-student relationship. However, teaching is often perceived more by the tools used than the act of learning. A teacher has a very simple and specific relationship with students: to help them learn.
Having worked many years as a researcher, developer, and an educator, I have learned many things without the help of a teacher or instructor. With motivation and patience, I have learned every tool, method, and algorithm I need to accomplish my job. Learning is often accomplished without a teacher; however, the qualities that promote independent learning must first be developed.
As a teacher, my job is to help students learn and to promote my own obsolescence by developing the skills for independent learning. I am not hired to quiz, grade, lecture, give readings, or make tests. I may use these tools to help students become disciplined, motivated, and practiced, but as a teacher, my job is focused on learning. I help students learn by tailoring the material to the student, offering evaluation of progress, and suggesting methods for improvement.
When presenting material to students, the material must be adjusted to best suit that specific set of students. Guiding students down the path of learning is challenging when there are as many paths as there are people in the world. Students come from different cultures, races, backgrounds, and aptitude levels. Each student has a different set of goals and approach to learning. Each may require a different presentation style, a different pace, or a different motivation.
In my teaching experience, I have tried lecture, group work, and whole class participation with varying results. When students have little experience with the concepts, I have found group activities to produce imaginative and insightful solutions to the problem. When students are familiar with the concepts, lecture has been an excellent way to cover topics that build on basics.
For complex and intimidating problems, working together as a class has helped introduce ideas and give students confidence that they can tackle similar problems. One of my most satisfying teaching experiences was when, together as a class, we developed a simple programmable shader. Students suggested algorithms and functions and I implemented the product. I discovered how effective this example was after class when several students remarked that they now saw how easy the concept was and were ready to try it on their own.
Assessing student progress is a difficult task. Grades are a major concern for students and can be a point of contention with the teacher. Schools often publish a description of the performance required to earn each letter grade. When designing a rubric for student evaluation, the letter grade description provides a clear indication of the type of performance needed to receive each grade level in the rubric. This gives students a direct link between their course grade and the standards of performance set by the institution. Additionally, it requires that the rubrics and evaluations I design are able to test the student at the level required by the school.
When evaluating progress, I have no interest in 'failing' a student or maintaining a bell curve point spread across my class. As a teacher, I am only concerned with fulfilling my duties to help my students learn. After evaluation, I inform students of the areas where they are weak and alert them that the area will be assessed again. As each student masters an area, I successfully fulfill my obligations for that student.
When teaching my graphics course, I required my students to implement a Phong shading model for a ray tracer. The same concepts would be used in later rasterizer and shader projects. After each project evaluation, I was able to let the students know which areas still needed improvement and provide a review of the model. By the end of the course, nearly every student could not only produce the required mathematical expressions, but also analyze their purpose with respect to general light transport.
Teaching successfully is challenging and must be evaluated. I measure my teaching success in two parts: one based on current student achievement and one based on future student achievement. The first measure of success comes when students have successfully learned. That is, they can solve problems at the same level of understanding as I have presented the topics. The second metric of success is when students successfully learn higher concepts in the field. This requires that I help the student prepare to continue learning in the area. By these metrics, I may not successfully teach each student in my class. Nonetheless, I believe it is appropriate to expect such a level of performance from any teacher. As I grow, I hope to achieve such a level consistently.