Teaching Statement (2018 February 12)
As part of my application to be promoted to Clinical Associate Professor in 2018, I was required to submit a personal statement. Here it is.
An occupation as a teacher is a luxury few are able to afford, and even fewer are in a position to be offered. I consider myself fortunate to be surrounded by people who devote themselves to advancing knowledge and helping others, and who are generally interested in what they do and treat one-another with dignity.
As has probably always been the case since antiquity, education today is abuzz with new ideas, new hypotheses, systems and processes, and new social forces and politics. While we no longer consider the need to imbue all aspects of students’ life with “harmony and rhythm”, as Plato suggested for a goal for education, our mission as educators has nevertheless stayed roughly the same since at least the days of Homer - to prepare students to become active participants in society.
Our department is fortunate to be perceived today, within the university community, as gatekeepers to a large portion of society’s important activities - the computational systems upon which much of society’s activities have come to depend, and the social structures that have been built around them. Parents often pressure their children to study with us, hoping we will train them for active participation managing, designing, and harnessing the power of those systems once they leave our care. As a result of this and other trends in education, we find ourselves with record numbers of students enrolling in our courses and we see the topics we teach discussed daily in the mainstream media and national political discourse.
Much like a stress test on a software application, an increased load of students and attention on a department tests how sturdy a foundation we have and widens any cracks in our education processes. I believe a large part of my role is thus to help keep the proverbial ship water-tight, and to be amenable and available for any task, given our resource constraints and our operating under the relatively risk- averse organizational culture that most universities seem to share, while also maintaining the quality of education we offer our students as a constant (or preferably increasing) value proposition.
It is in this context, that I evaluate my own contribution to this department’s educational offerings and to those of society at large. In the 7 years since I joined this department - first as adjunct faculty, then as clinical - I have taught more than 2,000 students while favoring bespoke interactions with students over “solutions’ to the “problem” of teaching. In that time, I have tried to expand both my own intellectual abilities and my service to the department by continuing to understand the demands of industry through part-time consulting work, and by repeatedly volunteering for new teaching assignments in understaffed or new courses and advocating for ongoing iterative improvements to the courses with which I’m involved.
I hope my involvement has led our courses to better meet the needs of the students, industry, and the didactic goals of the university. I will consider myself lucky if I am able to continue this work into the foreseeable future.