My philosophy of teaching comes from very diverse sources. At the University of Toronto, I was fortunate to have Dr. Keith Ellis, FRSC, as my mentor in Spanish. It was Dr. Ellis's task to observe my teaching and to help develop my classroom presentations. I owe a great deal to the excellence of his early guidance and, following his advice, I always try to recognize new ideas that will assist me in delivering skills and knowledge. Dr. Ellis also taught me not to teach in isolation; as a result, my teaching skills have been drawn from many aspects of my life. I will give some examples.
- ACTIVITY, ENJOYMENT, PURPOSE: for 16 years, from 1976 to 1992 I was a qualified Coach and Instructor in the National Coaching Certification Program (Levels I & II: Rugby). At national level clinics and workshops, I was instructed by some of the best coaches in Canada; these coaches were also outstanding teachers and I soon learned to apply good coaching / teaching techniques and interpersonal skills to in-class teaching. Essential to a good training session, for example, are the Level I training principles: ACTIVITY, ENJOYMENT, PURPOSE. As a teacher I try to focus each classroom session around these three basic principles.
- CREATIVITY: In similar fashion, I have been able to apply creative writing techniques to Foreign Language Teaching both in Canada (live theatre and creative writing in Spanish) and more recently in Mexico (faculty seminars and practical sessions on live theatre  and creative writing  in English and Spanish). But Creativity goes beyond writing; for me, the university classroom is a place where individuals can both find themselves and (re)create themselves. Creativity, then, is one of the most important aspects of my teaching.
- IF THERE'S NO FUN, THERE'S NO FUTURE: This quote comes from one of the English RFU Training Manuals. I always try to include an element of fun, no matter how serious the subject I am teaching. Further, I have always tried to put back into each classroom the joy that I discovered while learning. It is only when students pursue knowledge for love, rather than for material reward, that true life-long learning takes place.
As a teacher, I teach what my students need, when they need it. As a result, in order to respond to student needs and also to maintain the Spanish program here at St. Thomas University, I teach unpaid voluntary overload most years. This gave me a teaching load of 15 hours per week throughout 1995-1996, while in the academic year 1996-1997, I taught 15 hours per week in the first term and 12 hours per week in the second semester. In addition, I maintain an open door philosophy and I encourage students to visit my office when they need help. Clearly, I live, breathe, eat, and sleep my subject. I have always done so. I will probably continue to do so until the day I draw my last breath!
In the first year of university Spanish, I maintain a relatively open classroom, facilitating group work, visiting each student individually, and encouraging the students to explore Spanish for themselves. There is an Hispanic world beyond the classroom and I want the students to visit that world, be it by slides, music, e-mail, WWW, video, or for the financially blessed, travel. The result of this is that many of my students develop, as I did, a life-long commitment to their love of Spanish language and culture, many of them travelling to, or working in, Spanish-speaking countries.
At the upper level, translation and grammar are offered in daily readings of the Spanish news via the WWW. This is clearly a recent development; as are the multi-media presentations on which I am currently working. Literature courses are designed to show students of the next millennium how the privacy of the relatively unfamiliar written text becomes the open viewing of the more familiar public video. We analyse scenes, discover what is missing, show how the viewer is manipulated and, in the active theatre courses, we write our own Spanish plays in an attempt to manipulate and subvert our own live audiences!
Outside the Spanish Program, I have participated in various interdisciplinary areas, offering sections in the Writing Program, the Aquinas Program and Humanities. Throughout these courses, my goals as a teacher are simple: I try to know the individual, to work with the individual, and to prepare the individual so that he or she may make the most of themselves and of their contact time with me. Further, when I teach, I try to leave the student with more than just a knowledge of the subject I am teaching, for I would like to leave each one with a lasting impression of the nature and importance of language and culture. What are culture and language, how do they function, what role do they play in our world, how do they shape our daily lives, what can an improved knowledge of language and culture do to better our existence and make the world a kinder place in which to live? Clearly, Discourse Analysis plays an increasingly important role in this style of teaching.
Language and culture, art and life: for me, teaching goes beyond mere subject and embarks on the much broader issues of truth and beauty. Art, Culture and Literature are key: I try to open the world of books for those who study with me. Cervantes, Tirso de Molina, José Zorrilla -- even if the names of the Spanish authors are unknown, the names of the characters they have created are familiar: Don Quixote de la Mancha, Don Juan, Sancho Panza. These are the people who inhabit the classroom with us in the upper levels of Spanish. Art is also important: I try and open the world of art so that students may appreciate with their own eyes, the skills of El Greco, Velásquez, Goya, Picasso, and the anonymous cave painters who lived in Altamira 7,000 years ago. Often, my slides are accompanied by readings from my own creative work, art and life joining hands in each seminar or class.
But in my philosophy of teaching, the great classics of the Western World, important as they are, are not the only things that count. My recent exchange visits to universities in the Dominican Republic and Mexico have shown me there is a whole world of culture on this side of the Atlantic that we need to bring to our students; for example, the Pre-Hispanic Mexican Códices ( Zouche-Nuttall, Vindobonensis, Borgia, Selden), the wonderful Oaxacan palaces at Monte Albán, Mitla, Dainzú, San José Mogote, Suchilquitongo, Lambityeco, and Yagul, and the vibrant poetry of Octavio Paz.
"If I can reach out and touch just one person...," wrote the Spanish Philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, Rector of the University of Salamanca and Professor of Classics. For many years, I based my teaching philosophy upon that sentiment. Now, as I look back on a quarter of a century of teaching at St. Thomas University, I realize with a joy coupled with humility, that. one by one, I have reached out and touched the lives of many, many people, and, in return, they too have reached out and enriched my world.
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