Teresa C. Balser - Passion for Teaching Statement

I teach because it is who I am—I can no more stop being a teacher than I can stop breathing. And I teach because I care about learning. On the first day of my soil biology class, I always share my favorite quote with the students: "Someone has not taught unless someone has learned."

I invite my students to participate fully in class and promise that they have my full commitment to their learning. We discuss what it means to participate in a class: They can be engaged partners in learning or they can sit in the back and just show up. It's their choice.

And, given the choice, they respond. I see them sit up, engage and really put themselves into the learning. That is their side of the bargain. My side is to ensure that the work we do together is relevant and important and that it contributes to learning. My part of the bargain includes being timely, organized, responsive and respectful. Their part of the bargain is to be curious, open and responsible.

I believe there is no magic formula for good teaching. It requires passion for and a commitment to learning as well as enthusiasm for students and an open, creative mind. It requires being willing to do whatever it takes to have learning happen and deeply caring that it does happen. This means our commitment to students must be bigger than our egos. This means letting go of a need to "control" the classroom, risking being wrong and being willing to grow and learn. It means being creative and innovative, and if something is not working, then change it!

This means I am not dogmatically attached to any particular pedagogy or epistemology. I use what works. Of course, the challenge is to figure out what works. Some days, I might spend a class session asking and answering questions. On other days, I spend more time providing information in a lecture. I constantly assess how things are going by watching my students' body language and listening. For example, I ask them at the start of class to tell me what happened in class the day before. Depending on what I hear from them, I modify class as necessary. I am willing to scrap the entire day's plan if the students missed what was important from the prior session. Creating enduring understanding and reinforcing learning are more important to me than rushing to "cover the content."

My job as their teacher is to facilitate learning. I challenge them to get curious and provide them with assignments they enjoy. And often as not, they respond by going above and beyond the class requirements. To me, this is the ultimate goal-to create an environment that is engaging enough that students learn for learning's sake, simply because it is fun. I want them to say, "Wow, cool, I never knew that."

I consider myself a lifelong learner and believe my effectiveness as a teacher in part stems from my desire to continuously grow and improve in my role. In recent years, I have made a transition from scholarly teaching to the scholarship of teaching. I have begun to learn the new (to me) field of discipline-based education research. Ultimately, I want to be a model for my students with constant new ideas and the passion for learning that strikes at the heart of what it means to be human.

Learning for me, like teaching, is as essential and unavoidable as breathing. I hope that any student I spend time with comes away changed, challenged, empowered and inspired. I hope that they know that I care about them, and I hope that they question everything around them and continue to learn for as long as they have breath to do so! Today, I am privileged to see increasing numbers of students who can surprise themselves with what they can do.

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