Richard L. Miller - Passion for Teaching Statement

One of my favorite quotes is by baseball great Jackie Robinson, who said, "Our lives are unimportant, except for the influence we have on others."

In my life, three teachers stand out as having made a real difference in who I have become. The first was my junior high school orchestra director who, with a bachelor's degree from Juilliard and a doctorate from Columbia, was once asked why he taught junior high. His answer was that it was the "last chance to have a real impact on people's lives." He was a teacher who inspired us to be better than we ever thought possible. Gary Carson, my mentor at Weber State College, taught me how to become involved in students' lives beyond the classroom, and he remains a close friend to this day. Philip Brickman at Northwestern taught me that real teaching often happens outside of the classroom-in informal settings where ideas can be nurtured, coaxed and molded into clarity. For whatever successes I have had working with students, I owe a large debt of gratitude to these outstanding teachers.

In 1901, psychologist Hugo Munsterberg wrote that the difference between high school and the university is that the role of the high school instructor is to provide students with a good understanding of a knowledge base while the university professor must teach students to critically evaluate and expand a knowledge base. My greatest satisfaction has been in finding ways to involve undergraduate students in that critical examination and expansion of the knowledge base. To do this, I have developed an optional lab experience in which students conduct empirical research-not just to learn how to do research but to actually increase the knowledge base. Of course, many students learn the techniques of research as they go along, but the real fun is in finding out something new and then sharing it with a larger community of scholars. This quest for new knowledge is what spurred my interest in psychology, and it is what I hope to provide to my students.

I begin the lab by providing students with a set of unexplored topics. I then invite them to add to the list. The students form small groups to investigate their chosen topic. I encourage the students to formulate questions that have not been asked before. I then guide them to journals to see what materials can be found that might provide a foundation for their questions. The students make all of the arrangements to conduct a study-they obtain participants, analyze the data (with my assistance) and work with me to structure their paper.

The most exciting part occurs when the students know something that no one else knows yet. To share this knowledge, most of my students present their research results at a regional conference; several have developed their work into publications. Many students have identified this experience as one of their most significant academic endeavors, and I have found that my lectures have become enriched with examples drawn from these student research projects.

In a rapidly developing field like psychology, I believe it is important to impress upon students the tentative nature of behavioral science. By emphasizing the experimental approach in class, involving students in the research process and encouraging a range of research interests, I believe that I have begun to teach students what psychology is and what it can be to them in the future.


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