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Teaching Philosophy Statement: Sharon Tokar

Former Graduate Student Teacher (Archeology)

The following are excerpts from a teaching philosophy statement:

Recently a fellow graduate student challenged me on the issue of whether I teach or simply lecture. The point being made was that, with a class of over 100 students, it is not possible for me to teach effectively. I found myself in a position of having to justify what I do in my classes and why: what is the difference between teaching and lecturing?

I have come to this challenging field of teaching after a variety of life experiences. Many of these have provided invaluable learning opportunities that I have been able to draw on. For 17 years, I was involved with a mountain Search and Rescue team. As a Search Manager, I was responsible for the overall co-ordination and organization of the search task. Amongst the valuable skills developed was thinking on my feet, valuing advanced preparation and dealing with individuals under less than ideal situations. Though far removed from an emergency situation, the classroom calls upon these skills. Organization and preparation are reflected in the presentation of material and the competency with which this is done. Such nuances are not lost on students as their term-end evaluation comments indicate (Appendix 2). Often students are under a great deal of stress and they are not always equipped to deal with the curves life throws at them. As a teacher, it behooves me to treat all students regardless of the circumstances and situation with respect and sensitivity. My ability to organize and control a classroom was acknowledged and appreciated by my students (Appendix 2).

When dealing with students of any age, it is important for their learning process to apply the proffered knowledge to something in their own world. When discussing the development of complex societies, I introduce the concept of identifying the reign of cultural leaders and varied societies through architectural styles. We are fortunate at the University of Saskatchewan to be an old campus with successive building campaigns. I call the students' attention to the varied building styles that, if they checked, correspond with specific university presidential administrations. Thereby providing them with an on site, applied example of the specific concept. This use of contemporary examples is gratifying for me as well in being able to formulate examples that a younger generation can grasp easily (Appendix 3).

By virtue of the discipline of Archaeology, I have a wonderful opportunity to explain many concepts that are either "common knowledge" to all or those which are accepted knowledge amongst the discipline but not the public. An example of the former is the reality that many of us have our wisdom teeth (3rd molar) removed or are born lacking wisdom teeth. Much to the students' amazement this is an example of macro-evolution at work. As our species moved towards an increased level of agriculturalism our diet shifted accordingly. This shift continues today as we eat an increasing level of refined foods. As a direct result, we no longer need the chewing abilities provided by this set of 3rd molars and our jaw is becoming progressively smaller to accommodate fewer teeth. In the second case, it may be obvious to Archaeologists but not to the public how we detect the trait of bi-pedalism in our early ancestors, the Australopithecines. Very simply, we do it through the structure of the femur and pelvis and the location of the foramen magnum. Easy when you know what to look for.

One of the most difficult things I had to learn as a new instructor was how much information is enough and when is it too much. I quickly came to realize that it is physically impossible to include a whole textbook into a one- or even two-semester class. My job as a teacher is to expose the tip of the concept and stimulate the students to want to look further. No matter what their educational goals or reasons for being in my class it is important to encourage students to think critically and explore the options.

Several years ago I was a student pilot. I still remember the first take-off and landing, fortunately under the hand of my flight instructor. The memory of the terror is still vivid in my mind, never believing that I would ever get a plane into the air let alone land it in one piece. I don't believe that I am an individual to whom all skills come easily whether flying or kayaking. Yet learning such skills has taught me far more than meets the eye. Flying and other pursuits epitomize so much of what I try to bring to the classroom and my difficulty in learning such skills enhances my teaching. I have learned to break down any task or new skill into manageable learning components. In essence, to draw back from the bigger picture and focus on one step at a time, one skill building onto another and into the final landing. Not only have I learned several outdoor skills, I have taught them. Regardless of what I am teaching I always try to recall being in the position of the student. Doing this allows me to empathize with and to honestly encourage perseverance and persistence from my students. Each term I learn. Some of this from formal textbooks and workshops, and a great deal from my students themselves and this, I believe, is as it should be.

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