John Zubizarreta - Passion for Teaching Statement

In my relations with students, I have learned that conscientious mentoring is a necessary dimension of careful, transformative teaching. Delivery of information and boning up on techniques are technical acts that any competent teacher can perform. Most instructors are good enough to know what and how to teach. The outstanding professor, however, knows the value of working patiently, personally with students and knows the virtue of changing lives with the "rough magic" of teaching-much like Prospero in Shakespeare's "The Tempest" who, as archetypal teacher, brings others into their own natures, a magical experience of liberation and learning.

In the intellectually charged relationship between student and mentor, the professor teaches more than content. He or she teaches habits of thinking, habits of being. In this process of engaged learning, students discover the rewards of controlled inquiry, the value of reasoned discourse, the delight of intellectual curiosity and an earned respect for the process of questioning knowledge with passion and conviction. Faculty who work vitally with students encourage learning on various levels, and such values have committed me to interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues and students. This dimension of my teaching has resulted in many shared projects with peers and students, resulting in work that has enriched my teaching, my scholarship and my students' learning. This year alone, I have mentored almost 40 student projects and presentations and collaboratively presented at conferences or published with students. In my 22 years at the college, I have done so with more than 300 students.

Excellent teaching must inspire and must be inspired. Students must insist on the best from teachers who are current in disciplines and pedagogical innovations. They must demand not only course content and common assessment but also the uncommon, interactive mentoring that creates deep learning. Students must know that more should happen in their education than what happens in ordinary classrooms bound by traditional, formal boundaries between teacher and learner. The outstanding professor extends and quickens the teaching moment and inspires students to learn beyond the classroom, facts and disciplines. Such an instructor motivates students as partners in an authentic community of reflective learners.

One of the most exciting activities I have implemented recently in my courses is the periodic Reflective Learning Moment, a strategy for engaging students in critical reflection about their learning. Students focus not on content knowledge but rather on how and why they've learned during a particular class activity or assignment. RLMs are opportunities to stop whatever we are doing in the class to think about the learning process itself, to theorize about the nature of learning and to examine how such reflection improves their intellectual growth. Students rave about the positive influence of such reflective moments. They also learn much about their own styles of learning and teaching as well as my own, which helps equip them to learn more effectively in other courses and life experiences. Students regularly hide behind trees and corners when they see me strolling toward them on campus: "He's going to make us have an RLM!" I take their comic jabs as high compliments: One cannot satirize what one doesn't understand or what one hasn't first embraced fully and critically.

As we pause during an RLM to understand the deeper learning issues at stake, we realize that the effort made in such reflective practice is precisely the "rough magic" of transformative teaching and learning. As students in one of my recent classes put it, such deep and lasting reflective learning gives them a headache! Yet strangely, as if enchanted by rough magic, no one asks for aspirin for they grow to appreciate that learning is their only remedy.


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