A Philosophy on Teaching – Dr. Robert Alexander
Throughout my career, I have tried to model my behavior after those professors that have had the greatest effect upon me. Toward that end, I constantly seek to use techniques with my own students that I enjoyed as a student.
I was fortunate to have had some excellent professors when I was in college. Their mentorship has meant the world to me. In an effort to pay it forward, I consider myself to be an "academic dad" to my students. I could never take the place of their parents, nor do I wish to - however, I feel an obligation to guide and mentor my students as if they were my own children. My experience as a college professor enables me to help students in ways their parents cannot. So I take my position quite seriously and take great joy in the successes of my students. It is such a rewarding thing to help students reach their fullest potential.
In the classroom, I seek to engage students through a variety of teaching techniques. I want them to take ownership over their education. Given the subject matter of political science, I enjoy getting them thinking about "big picture" things. I hope they are able to see the importance of the role of government in our daily lives and how they can work to be an active part of the system. To do this, I try to be relevant. If I can't answer the "so what" question, then why should a student take an interest in what I'm teaching? Consequently, I often discuss not only what we are studying, but why it is important. I think this is something professors in any field ought to do.
I often use examples from my own life to illustrate course concepts. This can make a potentially complex issue much more concrete and relatable for students. In fact, I think a great deal of learning can happen when students aren't thinking they are being taught. Stealthy teaching of this sort often happens when students are engaged, connecting with one another, and generally enjoying a lecture or discussion. By the end of the class, they recognize that they not only had fun, but learned a ton.
At Ohio Northern, I have sought to create a culture of excellence where each generation of students are aware of what previous cohorts have done and work toward not only matching that excellence, but improving upon it. Students are encouraged to make their mark at the university and to think about how they will make their mark in the world.
Because the political science major does not have a clear career path, I have really worked to show students the multitude of career paths a political science degree can lead to. Because students won't be working at the "political science factory," they need to develop skills and experience to prepare for a variety of potential jobs. It is incumbent upon professors to help guide and show students the types of opportunities and knowledge they will need to be successful upon graduation.
Lastly, a few years ago an administrator at our university encouraged us to "dream big." I took that to heart. I am a first-generation college student and obtaining a Ph.D. was definitely a long shot given that background. However, I have been blessed with a great support network which has helped me achieve many of those big dreams to which I have aspired. I only hope I can provide that same type of support for those students who dare to dream big as well.
Dr. Robert Alexander currently serves as the Chair of the Department of History, Politics and Justice at Ohio Northern University. He is also a Professor of Political Science.