Doing Science Together:
A Statement of Personal Teaching Philosophy
Early in my career at MSUM, a faculty member in the education department characterized a teacher as a pipeline through which knowledge flows to the student. This image did not work for me. Doing science was no more about passive knowledge than playing baseball was about knowing the rulebook.
About the same time, my faculty Dean--noting that students she interviewed were well-motivated and appreciative of my teaching even when they struggled with difficult material--told me "you seem to be a good coach." I'd coached baseball as a teenager, and this image worked. A coach encourages, instructs, and pushes to excellence. Like a teacher.
As my teaching matured, I realized that coaching was not enough. In some ways, I had to be that senior player who demonstrates good play and sound technique, guiding my students by example through the reasoning, approaches, and puzzle-solving techniques of science.
These two elements, coaching and playing, became my model for teaching. In each class, as well as in research and advising, I strive to be both coach and player and to create a forum in which students and I become colleagues in discovery.
Seventy-five percent of the courses I teach have field experiences. Over 1400 students have learned geology in the field with me, nearly half on multi-day trips. Louis Agassiz, the great Earth Science teacher of the 1800's, after whom the former lake in our region was named and who is the namesake for one of our area schools, said "the book of nature is always open". He meant that it is in the field, and not simply in the classroom, that we learn about the Earth.
Cliché as it sounds, I love my work. I love the sense of companionship that comes from working together with students excited to learn. I love the light in their eyes when understanding dawns. And yes, I even love to coach students frustrated and discouraged when the material seems too hard. Each opportunity presents a chance to become better than we were, to learn something new, and to do it together.
To summarize my teaching, and my joy in it: "My students and I do science together."