Amalia Slobogian, BA, MA, B.Ed.


peacelovechalk“… I believe that the ideal teaching relationship involves the teacher and the student, both looking in the same direction, and both having a sense of wonder.”

Joe Wheeler

It is with great excitement that I look ahead to having my own classroom next fall, given the rich and rewarding experiences that I have had while teaching over the past four years. The quotation above forms the basis of my teaching philosophy. To me, the act of looking in the same direction means that “teaching” and “learning” are part of a holistic process in which there is a collaborative creation of meaning between student and teacher. My philosophy of teaching is based on the belief that learning needs to be student-centered and that students can be equal partners in their education.

When I teach, I endeavor to share my own love of learning with students. I work hard to create an active and stimulating learning environment by expressing my energy and enthusiasm for the material, learning about my students and their interests, carefully organizing class time, and using a range of teaching methods and presentation styles. I also use humor and pop culture references to capture student interest and make classes more engaging, and I extensively incorporate art and multimedia to appeal to multiple learning styles (Powerpoint, videos, music, web sites, etc.). From the consistently positive student feedback I have received, I know that when I convey my own love for learning it is often contagious.

Students must be actively invested in the learning process for it to be successful. With this in mind, my flexible approach to assessments stresses student self-discovery and the opportunity to study and research things that are meaningful and relevant to students’ lives and interests. When students are empowered to take greater ownership of their education, they are motivated to work hard and to master the necessary skills to reach their goals. The more interested students are in the material, the better they perform and are able to represent their true level of knowledge. In the past, some of the types of assessments I have used included: collaborative group presentations (both oral and multimedia), reading responses, journals, quizzes, formal research papers, in-class performances, news articles, and critical theory projects. In the future, I plan to teach basic website creation and use student-made sites as platforms for class projects and student writing portfolios. Overall, I try to develop assignments that will promote analytical and critical thinking and provide opportunities for creative application.

I am a proponent of active and cooperative learning, and I use a variety of methods to encourage discussion and interaction. Like many teachers, I see my role as that of a facilitator whose task is to spark students’ excitement for learning and give them opportunities to practice their critical thinking skills in various ways. I have learned that some of the most powerful lessons come from informal discussions. Thus, at McGill, I frequently used controversial discussion questions to generate debate and would have students engage in activities intended to make them consider new perspectives. One such activity involved having students perform the same scene in different styles and from different points of view and then explain the creative choices that had been made. This activity demonstrated the complexity of literature, showed students the value of multiple viewpoints, and was also a fun exercise that brought the class closer together. Research consistently shows that students who participate in cooperative learning are more active participants in their learning process, care more about the class material, and are more personally engaged. In light of this, I also use activities like group projects and peer editing to encourage interdependence amongst students. I find students learn and retain the material more effectively this way, and comments from student evaluations support this view.

In addition to teaching collaborative learning skills, I believe in helping students to strengthen the essential literacy skills that they will need to use in their everyday lives. In my classroom, students will have an opportunity to read and to write using a variety of forms on a daily basis. In today’s competitive, technology-focused world, students need basic abilities that are easily transferrable across various professions and disciplines, such as information fluency, the ability to write and to think critically, a healthy skepticism of information, and the ability to use technology to research and to find the best evidence. Students must learn where to find information, how to evaluate it, and how to formulate opinions and make decisions using problem-solving strategies.

When I taught at McGill, my aim was to foster an environment in which students felt safe and supported, and were encouraged to share their ideas and to take risks with their learning. In the vast sweep of a large university, I wanted students to feel like they were part of a much smaller and closer community when they stepped into my class. I worked hard to create an atmosphere where students felt welcomed, comfortable, and could have fun. I used icebreakers to lighten the mood, cooperative group learning to encourage student interaction, and a class website where students could share their notes and work with one another. I also set the tone by responding positively to all comments, and by encouraging students to respond to one another. Based on the feedback I received from students, I know that these efforts were noticed and had a positive impact on the class dynamic. One student observed that our class “was always a safe environment for discussion,” while another commented that “this was one of the few conferences in my experience where we would lose track of time and would end up staying over the hour time period without even noticing just because the discussion that was happening was so interesting” (please see my website for more samples of student feedback).

A major theme of my teaching is inclusivity, which I emphasize both in terms of classroom community and curriculum. I challenge myself to become familiar with students’ various learning styles, interests, and abilities so that I can differentiate my instruction in the most effective ways. I believe in creating a sense of community and belonging in the classroom for all students by providing a supportive, collaborative environment in which each student feels integral to the group. With this in mind, I start off my courses by having students discuss what a “safe” classroom environment means and by creating ground rules to ensure respectful dialogue throughout the term. Teaching inclusively also means ensuring that students see themselves – and the diversity of our society – represented in the curriculum they are being taught. Thus, I include a variety of perspectives and representations (e.g. ethnicity, race, gender, class) in the material I teach. Every lesson, every text, and every period represents an opportunity to teach not only a traditional understanding but to imbue students with a sense of critical literacy.

Finally, forging personal connections with students is an essential element of my teaching practice. I want students to know that I care about them and that I am always available to them to help sort out any problems they may have. Consequently, feedback from students has been a vital part of my growth as an instructor. By listening to students, I have gained insight into what works and what does not – for example, in terms of the pacing of lessons, the best ways to review material, and the efficacy of activities.

While I believe my teaching so far has been successful, I also recognize that I have a great deal to learn from my colleagues and students. My professional development as a teacher is constant and ongoing. I hope to inculcate a similar appreciation for lifelong learning in my students, to spark their curiosity, and to show them a sense of joy can be found in our school and classroom communities.