I am a teacher but I had limited training on how to be a teacher. I have taught several times in the past and I am currently teaching a large undergraduate biochemistry course. I am passionate about teaching and I make sure to put my heart and effort in every single one of my course sessions. However, I acknowledge that my teaching practices are more often a product of empirical knowledge rather than theory. In the past couple years, I have had the opportunity of learning a bit of the pedagogy fundamental knowledge in courses I have taken at Virginia Tech. I constantly think on how to incorporate practices derived from this knowledge in my current endeavors and compare it to what I have done in the past.
In this post, I want to reflect on my teaching experiences under the light of critical pedagogy and some of the work of Paulo Freire. Perhaps, the most glaring fault on my teaching is that it is still partially found under the “banking concept of education”. When I teach biochemistry to 280 students, my course sessions follow a lecture style teaching. I give my students the content they need to complete the learning goals we define for each topic. They listen to me lecturing and ask questions if needed. I follow this structure, partially because this is how I was taught in the past and partially because this course has been structured like this for years.
As a young professional, and most importantly as a graduate student, I struggle with changing procedures that have been followed though many years. The best solution I have produced for this problem is to make little changes that in my mind can make a difference. For example, I have started to include several opportunities for active learning during class. I include questions and problems that we work together individually and then as a group. This way I can give each of my students a voice in the class. I also have changed the assessments to favor critical thinking over memorization. Using this approach, my students have shown their ability to truly understand the material.
Freire also talks about the importance of avoiding the objectification of our students. Our students are humans and we need to treat them with the respect and love they deserve. It is hard to do so when you are teaching a 280 student class fully online, specially because turning the camera on during the Zoom sessions is optional. Despite these challenging conditions I try my best to see my students as individuals and treat them as such. I host office hours every week and I make sure to ask each of them for their name, their major and what they want to do after graduation. I also accept that we are going through very challenging times, and I have tried to be extra flexible in terms of deadlines and missed work. At the end, we are all going through the same pandemic.
In the past, I also was very afraid of showing my students my weaknesses, but now I embrace them. I think this is a clear example of a way to humanize myself and in turn humanize my students. It is challenging to reflect on our own teaching, however I think it is important to do so. As graduate students we have the power and duty to update the teaching practices of the departments that we work in. This actions will benefit us, our students and our fields.