August 18, 2006

Teaching Excellence

An essay by Frances Wong
(Doctor of Pharmacy Student and former teacher)

After being a student for more than 18 years and a high school teacher for 3 years, I learned to view the profession TEACHING as a student and as a teacher. It does not mean I am an expert in analyzing this profession perfectly. It simply means that I think about teaching from two angles due to the different roles I have.

It is easy to ask a student to give some descriptions of an excellent teacher. Depending on the age/maturity/education levels of the students, the answers can range from sense of humor and caring to mastery of knowledge in subject and organization. Students see how a teacher delivers the “knowledge” but seldom sees how a teacher prepares a lesson.

It is also easy to ask a teacher to give some descriptions of an excellent teacher. Depending on the age group/audiences’ education level/teaching subjects, the answers can range from well-prepared and detailed lesson plans to good communication skills and classroom management. Teachers also focus on the delivery method when presenting a lesson in a classroom but sometimes neglect what students really need in order to learn and how to truly evaluate and assess students’ learning.

An interesting collection of views on good teaching was presented by Ken Bain in the book: What the Best College Teachers Do. There were many great pedagogy methodologies that I strongly believe college educators can use to their benefits. However, Bain stresses the most important thing is not to focus on the methodologies; it is to look at the before, during and after of teaching so one can evaluate and enhance his/her teaching. A good educator starts by examining his/her teaching philosophy before the class even begins. A philosophy which bases teaching on helping students to make connections between new materials with one’s previous knowledge and not just focusing on the delivery. All teachers want to be good teachers, but it is how one perceives “teaching” and “learning” that structures the way they help their students to achieve the ultimate goal of the class – learning. With that in mind, a teacher then can go on to planning out how he/she wants to reach that goal. During the course teachers will encounter different “curve balls” in classes that require open-mindedness and adjustments which will allow students to maximize learning. Evaluation after the class then becomes the key to climbing up the ladder toward excellent teaching. To create a good learning environment, one needs to make the much needed preparation, lesson planning, and assessments while keeping both teachers and students in mind.

After examining “teaching” from different angles, I see that even though there are many differences between primary, secondary, and post-secondary/higher education teachers, one thing we all have in common is the power to shape and influence the minds of our future. This commonality is the most important reason that we need to have good teachers for all types of students in all parts of the world. As pharmacy educators, are you ready to take upon this challenge in being as good of a teacher as you can possibly be? Whenever you are ready, the students are waiting.