As a tertiary level educator, my aim has always been to give my students a reason to reflect on their long-held personal convictions. To critically consider how it is that they came to believe what they believe and what they stand to gain (or lose) by abandoning that method of thinking and adopting something different. Indeed, if there is anything that a student should learn from being enrolled in a university it should be how to develop this critical reflection.
Being a teacher of language and linguistics, I find that I often contend with a phenomenon – language – that is a fundamental component of students’ identity. All students enter the classroom with a language, and all of them, invariably, enter with preconceived notions (whether good or bad) about that language and its usage. My role is to get my students to first understand that popular ideas about language are usually socio-political in their orientation rather than scientific/linguistic. Their role is to interrogate how exactly these ideas took shape, how they get transferred between speakers, and how valid these ideas are in light of what can be objectively verified. It is as much an exercise in fact-checking as it is in “soul-searching” often giving rise to a maelstrom of old ideas vanishing into thin air, or being strengthened at last; new ideas being adopted after much consideration, or dismissed entirely as unacceptable. The firestorm debates in my classes occur frequently.
My personal approach to teaching is to invite all perspectives into the crucible, even if at times some students need to be cajoled. I try to ensure that my classes are usually an interactive space, and on occasion when the highly controversial topics are broached, a form of “controlled chaos” ensues as the certitude of contradictory positions is asserted. All the while I insist that the classroom space be treated with respect – no student should be unceremoniously silenced, disrespected, threatened, or made to feel that their views do not count. I strive to make my classroom an equitable space where all students are treated with fairness and dignity regardless of their backgrounds, their biases, or their worldview.
I take the necessary steps to incorporate technology into my teaching whether audio-visual presentations, online quizzes, or social media sites. One of my most rewarding teaching tools, however, was decidedly “low-tech” – student journals. Students’ reflective writing provides a fairly efficient way to assess a usually overlooked component in learning – the affective domain.
For my students, it provides an outlet to chronicle the evolution of their feelings in a particular course, and for me,
it serves as a source of improving my own teaching methods as well as a source of ongoing research, and on occasion, a source of great inspiration.
Universities have always placed a high premium on critical thinking skills and graduates who are both socially aware and responsible. Courses in language and linguistics play an important role in this endeavor – language is, after all, the difinitive human trait. I push my students to think beyond their own personal frames of reference and consider the perspective of the “other.” To constantly explore and interrogate the smaller “worlds” which exist beyond the classroom, all the while ensuring that they recognize the classroom only controls one aspect of learning, and the other forms of learning take place when they leave and engage the environment. Nothing demonstrated this more than when I took a group of students to a middle school heritage language class to do activities with the youngsters of Caribbean descent, or when I took another group to the CHRY Radio station to do their group presentation on language stigma live on air.
I strongly believe I learn twice as much as I teach. There is always an interesting story to unearth from my students’ experiences and the exercise of teaching itself reveals so much about my own strengths (being an engaging facilitator) and weaknesses (handling student conflict) and how I can either capitalize on them or improve them. Teaching is both what I do and who I am. And I really wouldn’t have it any other way.