David Thaw

University of Pittsburgh | 3900 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 | dbthaw@pitt.edu


Teaching Philosophy


I am a strong believer in the "Teacher-as-Scholar/Scientist" model of higher education. In use for many centuries, this model places those who are leaders in their substantive fields in higher education instruction roles. Often times these experts (myself included) do not have degrees in professional education. For many students, this begs the question -- why?

My teaching philosphy (and this statement) is in large part an answer to the "why" question. In the United States, we overwhelmingly use professionally-trained teachers -- those whose post-baccalaureate training is in the field of Education -- for primary and secondary education. And for very good reason. The material covered at these levels generally is well-established, the students have (cognitively) developing minds, and teaching methodology is of critical importance to ensuring as many students as possible are able to learn fundamentals society expects of basic education. And then comes the "jump" to college... and a completely new set of experiences. This can be quite jarring for students accustomed to the model predominant throughout K-12 education. Yet making this adjustment is critical to success in higher education and the professional and academic pursuits for which it prepares students.

My teaching philosophy focuses on two primary benefits from the Teacher-as-Scholar/Scientist model. The first is perhaps more widely-known and agreed upon in higher education: having those who teach be experts at the forefronts of their fields helps keep topics relevant to what is coming (rather than what's past), facilitates deliberative (or "deep") learning, and helps ensure that the learning process will be contextualized within broader knowledge of where the field is likely to move. While this requires a bit more "self-starting" on the part of the student, it is a well-established process that helps students "learn how to learn," a critical skill for professional success.

The importantance of "self-starting" brings me to the second benefit, one which I think is not well communicated to contemporary students. The process of "adapting" one's learning to an "expert instructor" (as opposed to a "professional instructor") reinforces a key practical learning objective -- the ability to learn, grow, and develop professionally under the guidance and supervision of someone other than a professional teacher. In other words, it is practice for real life.

Regardless of whether your plans include professional work or continued academic study, those with whom students will be working overwhelmingly will not be professional teachers. Most will not have any training in educational methods and learning models. They will, however, have at least some substantive expertise in their respective fields. The Teacher-as-Scholar/Scientist model helps prepare students for the reality of modern professional life by providing this "practical" experience of adapting to learning and working independently. With the important advantage of the "net" of doing so in the academic environment, where there still is time to learn.