Management and Marketing, Commerce, U of S
I like teaching. I like learning about teaching. And I especially like reading others' teaching philosophies. I love it when other teachers select analogies -- teaching is like lighting a bonfire, or teaching is like giving students wings -- that explain, instruct, and inspire. When I look at my own teaching, however, I am struck at how prosaic it is. For me, teaching is like stuffing a backpack. You know the ones I mean -- the heavy-duty, oversize backpacks that students shoulder down the halls of our institution. I think our students' metaphorical backpacks are just as large and just as valuable. In these backpacks, students carry with them the knowledge and skills they will need for their journey through life. When students come to my classes, their backpacks have already been partially filled by families, life experiences, and other instructors. The backpacks are deep and sometimes it's hard to see what they are carrying in there.
Through my teaching, I attempt to place items in my students' backpacks. First, the theoretical knowledge of our discipline goes in. In Introduction to Marketing, I toss in the steps of the consumer decision-making process. In Marketing Communication, I cram in the rules of effective fear appeals. In Popular Culture, the characteristics of postmodernism.
The next layer of the students' backpacks is reserved for practical Marketing skills. In Introduction to Marketing, students have to set the probable price for peanut butter slices. In Marketing Communication, they create an advertising campaign for a local non-for-profit company. In Popular Culture, they learn to gather and analyze information for a research paper.
By this time, the students' backpacks are pretty full but I'm not done yet. My final job is to expand their backpacks so that more will fit in them. I do this by asking them to analyze, question, and think. A good example is the assignment in Popular Culture class that requires students to watch WWF [now WWE] wrestling on TV with three different types of people and write about it. Although the students read this assignment in disbelief, the resulting discussion asks them to ponder why violence is popular in our culture, who profits and who is hurt by mediated depictions of reality, and how we as viewers shape our cultural experience. Sometimes, I can actually see their backpacks grow in class as they experience new ways of thinking about an issue. And sometimes students have to discard something from the bottom of their backpacks that has lain there, unexamined, for many years to make room for a new idea.
The good thing about stuffing a backpack is that it is a lot of fun. I imagine stuffing a parachute would be a grim affair. But stuffing a backpack is not so serious. As my mentor said to me many years ago, "The good thing about Advertising is that if you make a mistake, no one dies." The same is true of teaching. I also know that as soon as students are out of my sight, they dump things out of the backpack to lighten the load. With these characteristics in mind, I can't just force items into the backpack. I have to get students to want to carry my backpack stuffers around. So I try new things in teaching. What do students discard? How can I get items to stick around longer in the backpack? Will this exercise expand that backpack or not? Mistakes are OK because I can always try again. In addition, I find that the students might not notice how heavy the backpack has become if the stuffing process is interesting and even entertaining.
As students prepare to graduate, they leave me, their backpacks full. My sincere desire is that they journey further than I have, see more, achieve more. And somewhere along the way, they'll pull something out of their backpacks and think of me.