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MY PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING
Arcea Zapata de Aston, Ph.D.
Teaching has always been a pleasant challenge for me, which comes from finding the most effective method of learning for the student and the enjoyment of watcAhing a student learn. I enjoy it because it is part of my nature to share what I know. When I teach, I become part of the process; I like to see and feel the enjoyment students experience when they engage in real communication. In which I, in my role as facilitator, engage students to participate actively and, at the same time, subtly guide them in expanding and refining their skills in comprehension, interpretation, and analysis. My first teaching experiences with children taught me how openly and creatively they use their instincts and imagination, whereas older students and adults use more their intellectual and metacognitive capacity; they look for patterns and logic, they think about process, and they want me to know what they are thinking. They have taught me to be aware of my inconsistencies and ambiguities. By understanding how my students learn, I have gained new and important insights for my own teaching practices.
It is about organizing and sequencing bodies of knowledge clearly and dynamically for others. Careful attention to the goals of each course, the organized construction of the syllabus, and the detailed preparation of each class hour make it possible for me to creatively draw the students out, manage and encourage discussion, and follow students’ leads while still remaining focused on the main subject—teaching and communicating efficiently.
I expose students to the language both during and outside the class. I use listening exercises, authentic texts, and written passages that contain a variety of forms of interest to them. I encourage them to express their ideas either orally or more creatively by analyzing literary texts. I also stress grammar as an important tool to achieve a better communication.
Teaching the language communicatively is my main goal. I work towards this goal by connecting systematically the functional use of the language with meaningful contexts. I consider listening and speaking skills to be at the heart of language learning, particularly for beginners. Understanding the spoken language helps to access to subtle cultural nuances and discourse practices. Speaking, regardless of grammatical and lexical abilities, contributes to experience the pleasure of communicating in another language.
My English or Spanish -only policy, which begins with day two of the first semester, has consistently yielded rich fruit. Students invariably finish the first semester with a level of comprehension that they never would have thought possible. Having been introduced to proficiency-oriented teaching through my language career, I am well versed in techniques of student-to-student interaction, the use of media to enrich the teaching of language and culture, and the fundamental role of speaking as both; a means of communication and an object of study.
I approach the teaching of literature with the same intensity and passion that I have for language instruction. For me, the two foci are the students—with their current level of linguistic proficiency and their knowledge of the world and their reading experience—and the text. My goal as a professor is for the two to interact in ways that stimulate the students’ imagination and creativity, and enable them to synthesize and expand on their existing knowledge in both the linguistic and literary fields. The tools that I have at my disposal are my skills as a proficiency-oriented language professor and a solid academic training in literature and culture. Many of the communicative activities that I use in my language classes; group brainstorming to form hypotheses, small-group work to develop ideas to present to the larger group, and role playing, function well in literature classes, because they enable students to express in the simpler language they have mastered, complex ideas that they have understood through reading, and the application of critical thinking.
I approach the literary texts by making it relevant to the lives of my students and their experiences. I find films to be a rich source for observation of details, interpretation of events and characters, and comparison between film and book versions of works. I believe that films as a stimulus for interpretation of literary texts help students reach levels of understanding and analysis that are not possible through the printed text alone.
My academic formation has prepared me to undertake new challenges in the classroom—to develop new courses, learn new techniques, and work with students from a range of backgrounds. I am always looking forward to new opportunities, such as projects in service learning that enable students to combine academics with the service to the community. I believe this win-win situation enrich students’ minds and their interest in becoming part of society in a very meaningful way. I try to foster an environment that recognizes and celebrates diversity of all cultures and motivates students to see the connection between what they learn about other cultures and their own culture. I am convinced that part of my mission as a professor of languages in this global society is to increase awareness of the need of cultural competency.