Having grown up and lived straddling different cultural identities (I was viewed as an American when in Italy and am viewed as an Italian when in the United States) I have always been out of place. These experiences have taught me the value of inclusiveness in school, at work, and in the community. I have learned that making sure that colleagues and students find a welcoming environment is paramount. One of the tools that is essential to making the educational environment inclusive is to maintain an open attitude with students and colleagues alike. Collegiality and cooperation among faculty is a strong way to model and promote the desired behaviors to students. Showing my students that every person deserves to be heard furthers the attitude that inclusiveness is not simply window dressing, but a core value. Through these experiences I also learned to question my own position within societal cultural constructs and not to take these constructs for granted. Awareness of my position of privilege, as an educated white male, leads me to underline the roots of the biases that might seem natural. I highlight social constructs that are often go unnoticed, such as the definition of sexual norms through the ages and how the use of language shapes what we consider good and bad. Through these examples, I try to make students look at society more critically. A certain level of unease with the status quo is necessary for any individual to grow and change. I encourage students to test the boundaries of what is expected from them so that they can learn the limits of their own capabilities and possibilities. As a faculty member at South Carolina State University, which is a HBCU in rural South Carolina, this awareness has grown to include racial issues that I had not experienced before into my discussions with students.
On the first day of orientation of my foundation year in London, one of the faculty members said to the students “I am here to render myself superfluous,” paused for a moment, and then continued “I am here to teach you how to learn without me.” That has stayed with me ever since and it has become the bedrock of my teaching philosophy. Their interests, the skills necessary to succeed, and the students themselves evolve continuously after leaving the classroom. There is no way for us to teach them everything they will need to know in their lives. If we aim to just teach them a skill or two they will fail and, by proxy, we will fail too. If we teach them how to learn independently from us they can retool their skills and knowledge for an ever-changing environment and continue succeeding.
I also articulate my teaching around John Baldassari’s statement to his students: “Art comes out of failure. You have to try things out. You can’t sit around, terrified of being incorrect, saying ‘I won’t do anything until I do a masterpiece.’” I interpret it as pushing what is now known as the growth mindset in students. If they are not making mistakes, taking risks, and, at times failing along the way, they are not pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and they are not learning. Making mistakes is not to be feared; mistakes can be a learning tool. Looking back at what worked and what did not allows students to grow. Fearing making mistakes can and is crippling; by doing only what is safe the student’s growth is stunted. The classroom is a place where students are encouraged to find and push boundaries. The roll of the faculty is to direct the experimentation and to provide support in understanding what happened. To encourage risk taking and experimentation it is fundamental to listen to the students’ concerns and understand where they come from.
I measure my success by how independent and passionate about learning my students become. The goal for me goes beyond teaching a set of notions it is about communicating a love for learning. I am successful when students become independent lifelong learners. Students need to learn how to think and do rather than what to think.
Students' Work Portfolio