This week in #fslt14 we were asked to write a reflection about our current learning and teaching experience.
The first thing that comes to mind when I start thinking about this topic is that I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 6 years old. This means I have been “teaching” since I was very young. I say “teaching” because some may argue that helping your friends with their work is not really teaching. Anyway, I think this conscience I have since a very young age about what I like/want to do has helped me develop the skills I use today in my “grown-up” teaching.
I had a wonderful time at school. I always loved to learn, especially Mathematics. When I arrived to the University this passion about Maths became a big part of my life. Hence learning for me was always a second nature. Probably because of this it is quite hard for me to get inspiration from my own learning experience…
One thing I realise is that most my students are not really in love with mathematics: they are more in love with the idea that a degree in mathematics will enable them to have a nice career! Many times this makes me sad… But the truth is that these are the students I must teach! So how do I do this? What do I do when my class of 30 third year students looks at me as if I were speaking in my native language instead of English? I take a deep breath, I make sure I am not really talking Portuguese, and I start everything from the beginning. Patience! This is my first strategy! Then I try never to be exasperated: this is something us mathematicians are very good at. So I try to be always really kind (I realise my emotive nature sometimes makes this quite hard to achieve!...). I know a harsh attitude can cause real harm in the ability of a student to progress: if he is afraid, he will not ask questions because he doesn’t want to be perceived as “stupid”. One other thing I try really hard to transmit when I am teaching is the importance of real curiosity: the desire to really understand things, not only to mimic the best they can what I do so they can have a good grade. This is a big fight! But I really believe that the most important thing I can teach my students is not the particular way one solves this or that partial differential equation. More important than knowing to do stuff is understanding why we are doing it; is being able to look at a new problem and have ideas about how to solve it!
I realise now that I almost only wrote about the human side of learning: emotions, passions, motivations, etc… Of course I always try to prepare really well all classes, understand every little detail of all the arguments so I can explain them in a clear way. But in this exercise of reflection I think it is a good thing that I focused on the human side of learning/teaching. Because all I do during the week is to prepare lecture notes and exercises… It is good to stop and think about the “big picture”. After all, if we all were motivated students and passionate teachers wouldn’t all be so much easier?