In my recent job hunt, a university (not LSU, where I’m now working) asked applicants for faculty jobs to submit a statement of teaching philosophy. It seemed to me more like something to cover in a job interview than a document to submit with your cover letter and CV, but I was interested in the job, so I wrote a brief statement and submitted it.
I expect that what I submitted in May, before I’d ever taught full-time, will change in subtle ways in the coming year. I’ve taught several times as an adjunct professor and many more as a guest speaker. And I’ve trained journalists hundreds of times. But as a full-time teacher, I know I’m a rookie with a lot to learn. But I suspect students and colleagues still might be interested in my teaching philosophy, since I went to the trouble of writing it. So here’s what I wrote:
However much knowledge or experience I have to share with students, the most important things I can teach them are how to make good decisions as journalists and how to learn.
I teach students what various ethics codes say. But I go beyond the rules and lead the students in conversations about ethical principles and about questions they should consider in making ethical decisions.
I teach students how to use digital tools, but new tools will be introduced during their careers and the tools I teach students will change or fade away (for instance, I learned to use a pica pole and a photo enlarger as a TCU student). I teach students how to experiment with a new tool, how to learn what it can do and how to decide how it can help them do better journalism.
My teaching focuses on guiding students in learning through their own successes and mistakes. My experience and research provide context and feedback for exercises and assignments in which students learn and practice both timeless techniques such as interviews and digital tools such as social media.
My classes apply the principles we discuss to the stories and issues in journalism right now. Just like a newsroom reacts to breaking news in the community or the nation, my classroom reacts to news breaking in the world of journalism. My entrepreneurial journalism course at Georgetown this semester changed plans to discuss the launch of Vox and the demise of Thunderdome. If we were still meeting this week (our last class was May 5 and I wrote and submitted this in mid-May), we would have discussed the big news at the New York Times – not just the firing of Jill Abramson, but the internal report calling for the Times to transform its culture to be more innovative, which addressed several issues our class covered.
In 2010, several voices were advocating that journalism education needed to get “back to the basics,” rather than focusing on digital tools. My response was that we needed to “go forward with the basics.” I teach students how to use digital tools such as social media and databases to do fundamentals such as finding facts. When I teach that most basic skills of getting our facts right, I cover how to verify information found in social media.
In my practice of journalism as well as in my teaching, I am not only confident but certain that we can uphold, update and even upgrade journalism standards.