I am a graduate student at the University at Buffalo, working on finishing up my PhD in the Department of Philosophy, with a focus in Environmental Ethics. Aside from the study of philosophy, I have also dabbled in the field of English, receiving a Bachelors and Masters Degree in English Literature (also from the University at Buffalo). I have taught Philosophy and English classes at the college level for a little over five years, in topics covering Logic, Critical Thinking, Ethics, Research and Writing, and Public Speaking. It is something that I enjoy, and am deeply passionate about. I believe that education should be as fun as it is rewarding. If this wasn't the case, I couldn't really see any point in devoting my life to it.
Outside of school and work, I try and get outdoors as much as possible. In the fall and winter months, there is nothing more enjoyable than sitting in a tree stand, reading excerpts from Thoreau, Abbey, and McCarthy, waiting for that trophy buck to walk by. When I'm not hunting, you'll find me on the water, reeling in bass and steelies until my hands grow tired.
SUNY at Buffalo - Bachelors, English & Philosophy
SUNY at Buffalo - PhD, Philosophy
What is your teaching philosophy?
While a personal teaching philosophy may seem like an intrinsically individual notion, when traced to its roots it becomes apparent that it is actually a product of our external environment. One takes what he or she has learned – garnered through a life of instruction – and internalizes it in the manufacturing of an individual philosophy. Therefore, when trying to develop my philosophy of education, I cannot help but to think back to my years as a high-school student. An image begins to take shape in my mind; the fog dispels and the lines of the picture harden, become clear: It is my junior year at St. Joseph’s Collegiate, and I am sitting in the front vestibule of the main building, surrounded by my fellow classmates of English 3 Honors – or, more specifically, British Literature Honors. There are tables spread out before us, each adorned with a snow-white silk tablecloth. We are each dressed in his finest: Some of us wear the traditional navy blue, cotton blazer, while others, daring to be individual and taking the incentive to go the local Salvation Army, are adorned with someone’s grandfather’s secondhand tweed after-dinner jacket (complete with suede patches on the elbows). We sip English Breakfast and Earl Grey Tea out of china cups borrowed from our mother’s finest – the shortbread resting nearby on the saucer. How could it be that twenty-something teenage boys could possibly be coaxed into in a scene such as this, in public no less? The answer is quite simply, really: We were all invited to partake in Jane Austen’s tea party. It is on this day, over thirteen years ago, that I believe my philosophy of education was truly developed; my disposition shaped. The way in which Mr. Jack Kenny - my English instructor that year - was able to pique the interest of every boy in that class is nothing short of remarkable. He was able to take a book (In this case, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) that was written two centuries earlier, and admittedly dealt with topics not overtly pertinent to high-school boys, and find a way to make it matter. I began to realize that the function of the teacher goes far beyond simply forcing material onto the students. Anyone (and I use that term loosely) can read out of a teacher’s manual on a certain topic and expect his or her students to memorize and regurgitate what is written on the chalkboard. To the true educator, each student presents an individual case, and it is the job of the educator to give each student a voice. How is one to do this? I believe that it is the responsibility of the teacher to find a way to make the subject matter relevant to his or her students; in short, it is their responsibility to make the students care. Once the students begin to care, the possibilities for mental development are endless. If, as Walt Whitman so eloquently mused in his poem O Me O Life, life can be likened to a powerful play, then it is the duty of the educator to help each and every student find and develop his or her verse.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Developing a relationship based upon mutual trust and respect is an integral part of the learning process. Prior to covering the relevant material, the first session should also focus on becoming comfortable with one another, and how our methods and styles can complement one another. In this way, we can begin to develop a path that will ultimately prove to be the most rewarding (and enjoyable) in the educational process.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
As an educator, my essential task is to give the student the tools to succeed. This is best accomplished by appreciating the unique qualities and insights of each student, and developing those, instead of trying to force a certain type of pedagogy on them. Also, the instructor has to make the material relevant. When the student appreciates what they are learning, they are much more inclined to commit to the topic.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Setting relevant and achievable goals; ones that are recognizable and mark points of progress. Also, communication and availability is imperative. Knowing that there is someone you can turn to when you are struggling can make a world of difference. Lastly, you have to have fun with the material. Education does not have to be dry and lifeless. Unfortunately, many times it is presented that way.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
There are many ways to approach an issue. If a student is struggling with a concept, it may not be the concept itself, but the way that it is being presented. Oftentimes, breaking it down and looking at it through a different lens can help to assuage the problem.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Reducing the material into more digestible parts. Some material can be overwhelming in its presentation. Analyzing it and looking at its components and how it is constructed can assist in better comprehending the text.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
First, developing a relationship that is based on reciprocal trust. Individuals work best with people they respect (and honestly, people they like). Second, getting a feel for how the student works. People have different styles that dictate their learning approach. Education should not be approach with a one-sized-fits-all mentality. Finding out what works best for the student, so you can play to his or her strengths.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
Make the subject relevant. Give it a pulse. Remove it from the pages and show how it is applied in everyday life. Education should be fun and exciting. If it isn't, then you aren't doing it right.