PHILOSOPHY OF TEACHING STATEMENT
Victoria Russell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Spanish & Foreign Language Education
Department of Modern & Classical Languages
Valdosta State University
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” –William Arthur Ward
Each student that I encounter is a gift. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact on other people’s lives. The minute that I step into a classroom, I remind myself that my job is to teach, support, encourage, and, hopefully, inspire my students. I am passionate about teaching, and I believe that my passion is evident to every student that I teach. I have spent most of my adult life learning and developing expertise in the areas of teaching and research. However, I think that subject matter expertise and a strong research agenda can only help to make one a good teacher. In order to be a great teacher, it is important to focus on the needs of students. Institutions of higher learning would not exist without students, and serving students should be the main goal of every teacher. I believe that all students who are admitted to colleges and universities are smart, hard-working, creative, and have unique and varied talents. I have positive expectations of all of my students. I believe that when students are encouraged and feel supported in the classroom, they typically strive to produce their best work.
Communicating in the target language with an emphasis on developing proficiency in the four skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) should be the overarching goal of every class. Students should have opportunities to engage in individual and group practice in order to learn new concepts and to retain previously acquired material. While I believe that learning grammar can help students develop fluency more quickly, it is important that grammar is not the sole focus of instruction. An intense focus on the technical aspects of language can impede fluency, as learners may begin to heavily edit their speech and/or fear making mistakes. Many students feel intimidated about speaking a foreign language in front of their peers. Therefore, it is important to create a classroom atmosphere where students feel comfortable expressing themselves in the target language. It is also important to use authentic materials and to infuse each lesson with culture. Language is the vehicle through which culture is transmitted; thus, it is natural to teach language and culture simultaneously.
Motivating students is an important part of instruction. Many students take a foreign language at the college level because it is a requirement for graduation. I motivate students by creating my own materials, which include input-based activities, role-plays, and information gap tasks. The activities that are presented in the majority of textbooks that are available on the post-secondary market focus almost exclusively on form rather than on meaning. Focus-on-form activities are ineffective, and they are boring for teachers and students alike. I also teach students about how their brains process or parse linguistic input. Students often report that input processing strategies help them to learn complex features of the target language.
Foreign Language Methods
Training teachers is the most rewarding part of my job. When I train a teacher, I am able to impact not only the student who sits in front of me, but the hundreds, if not thousands, of students that the teacher candidate will impact throughout his or her professional career. Research shows that the most important factor for learning is an effective teacher. Thus, the task of training teachers is a great responsibility. Although I believe that subject matter expertise in second language acquisition and foreign language education is the foundation of a successful methods teacher, in order to make a meaningful and lasting impact on teacher candidates, it is vitally important to have real world experience teaching K-12 learners. I have taught every level of learner, including elementary, middle, high school, community college, and university level students. I also have international teaching experience, with three years of experience teaching secondary and post-secondary students in the United Kingdom. When I share my experiences, challenges, and successes with my teacher candidates, they are able to gain a better understanding of the environments and learners that they will encounter in their future classrooms. I also believe that the most important lesson that I share with my teacher candidates is the power of being a positive influence in their students’ lives. When students know that their teachers care about them and want to see them succeed, they begin to believe in themselves and their achievement soars.
Teaching with Technology
The effective use of technology in the classroom facilitates language learning. As a twenty-year veteran language teacher, new technologies continue to improve my ability to teach year after year. It takes effort to keep up with the latest technology tools and applications; however, it is empowering to be able to reach students in the medium in which they are most comfortable. Technology tools and applications can provide useful speaking practice for students outside of class. Some of the tools that I use to help students build speaking proficiency include asynchronous voice threaded discussion boards, audio drop box assignments, and synchronous communication through a live virtual classroom application. It is not unusual for my online students to engage in more speaking practice than their counterparts in traditional classrooms. The Internet is also an excellent source of authentic materials. I am able to expose learners to the target language as it is spoken and/or written in its natural sociocultural context through the authentic materials that I find on the Internet. While there are numerous resources available on the Internet, it is important to use them appropriately to help students build proficiency. Thus, I develop my own activities to accompany the materials that I find on the Internet. I also believe that non-traditional forms of assessment, such as portfolio-based assessment, are appropriate for proficiency-based programs. I have used electronic portfolios for several years to assess teacher candidates, and I am currently exploring the use of digital storytelling as a non-traditional form of assessment for language students using applications such as MovieMaker and PhotoStory 3.
An effective teacher never stops learning. I am a life-long learner. I continue to learn through taking classes and workshops, reading extensively, being an active member of professional organizations, attending professional conferences, and collaborating with other scholars in my field. I am very active in the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, where I serve as Chair of the Distance Learning Special Interest Group. I also serve on the Board of Directors for the Southern Conference on Language Teaching. Since I work in the field of higher education, I believe that it is extremely important to maintain an active research agenda. I am particularly interested in research that has implications for language teaching and learning.