For me, teaching psychology demands self-understanding. In order to teach others how to think critically about the causes, mechanisms, and outcomes of human behavior, I have to first apply the concepts of interest to my own circumstances. Consequently, I’ve found that being an effective teacher of psychology also involves a willingness to constantly revise my self-conceptions. As author Anais Nin wrote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
Therefore, one of my goals as a psychology teacher is to help students gain new insights into familiar concepts. To foster these insights, I believe in creating dynamic learning environments that employ a diversity of teaching methods. I often incorporate technology into the classroom by presenting information through PowerPoint during lectures or employing audio, video, and Internet resources to make the material come alive for my students. However, I strive to use these technologies in a complementary manner that enhances learning and promotes student engagement in an interactive setting. To me, the heart of the classroom is based around creative discussions, group activities, and instructor-led demonstrations.
Being able to show students psychological concepts at work in a hands-on manner helps to satisfy one of my other goals as a teacher—to make the material we’re learning self-relevant. I’ve found that by giving students the opportunity to directly challenge their own assumptions about behavior, as well as the new perspectives they’re exposed to in class, they develop a better appreciation for the science that guides psychology. Like many of my students, I find that it is difficult to study psychology in a form that is abstracted from one’s own experiences. Therefore, rather than simply feed my students with the facts and theories of the day, I strive to provide them with a set of critical thinking tools and techniques that they can use to fish out their own understanding of the issues at hand.
In fact, some students enroll in my classes already thinking there’s something fishy about the science of psychology. On the one extreme, I’ve had students present such an eagerness to gain insights into the “mysteries of the mind” that they’re often prepared to absorb theory for fact like a thirsty sponge. In this scenario, being too open-minded can lead one to become saturated with unfounded and potentially false beliefs. On the other extreme, some students have entered my classes as disbelieving skeptics, ready to debunk any conjecture that is not thoroughly and empirically demonstrated, even disregarding the notion that a “soft science” such as psychology is truly a science at all. Yet, being this skeptical can place limiting constraints on one’s ability to engage in critical, but creative thinking.
Therefore, one of my ultimate goals as a teacher is to help my students approach concepts in psychology from the perspective of an “open-minded skeptic.” This requires considering all manner of theories, ideas, and proposals in earnest, however dissuading some of them may initially appear. I’ve found that this promotes a flow of dynamic and creative thinking that, subsequently, can be filtered through the mesh of the skeptic’s net, eventually allowing only the best-supported notions to remain onboard. In this respect, I hope that I make a difference in my students’ lives by showing them that being an open-minded skeptic is not something limited to psychology, but a perspective that they can apply to any situation demanding careful consideration and critical thought. As a result, I’m always asking myself whether I’ve overlooked an important perspective on a topic when I’m having discussions with my students. I’m pleased when my students say, “I never thought about it that way before.” Yet, I’m most inspired when my students cause me to say that myself.