I have few greater personal joys than helping to unlock the potential of students, empowering them to take control of their lives. My goal as an educator is to foster in each student a desire to learn, a desire to improve on weaknesses, and a desire to succeed. These are habits that not only will make them successful students, but will also allow them to succeed throughout their lives. Some of my great joys as a teacher occurred at Mississippi State University (Assistant Professor 1992-1995), where I had an opportunity to interact with many students that grew up in poverty. Commonly, undergraduates were the first children in their family ever to attend college. Often, their goal was not to obtain high grades, but instead, to just graduate. I am proud to have participated in the education of students who, at times, struggled both academically and financially. Through perseverance, encouragement, and the proper guidance, many of these students graduated and became productive electrical engineers in industry. There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than helping improve the life of a student through education.
Students learn more from teachers’ actions than from their words. My obligation as a teacher is to instill, through my deeds, the importance of organization, preparation, respect for other people, professional ethics, problem solving skills, and most importantly, an enjoyment of life. Most learning is done outside the classroom through homework, projects and studying. As such, a great teacher is more of a facilitator of learning than a lecturer. An effective teacher does not drill facts, but instead ignites a student’s desire to learn. A teacher can only introduce a perspective and then attempt to guide students through difficult concepts. Through enthusiasm, encouragement, and placing knowledge in a context where relevance is apparent, a teacher inspires students to work hard on outside assignments. Then, and only then, will students become independent thinkers on course content.
As a teacher, I recognize the importance of creating a learning environment where students feel safe to contribute, comfortable to criticize, and self-confident enough to ask questions. Every class has a separate personality. It is my duty to create a balance between course content and the interests, needs and capabilities of students. Syllabi, indeed, provide a structure for a course, but they should not be too rigid as to inhibit the creativity of a class. When students participate in the creation of a course, they obtain a sense of belonging and are easily encouraged in all aspects of participation. My class lectures always incorporate open questions, forcing students to share their interpretations, impressions, and relevance to work experiences (co-op, full-time jobs or research). Discussions sway back and forth from teacher to students, often in 10-20 minute shifts. Perhaps by giving clues, although sometimes by giving complete answers, I attempt to guide students through important technical concepts. The hope is that they will discover for themselves fundamental technical principles.
Excellent teaching captivates and involves students. Simple ways I attempt to achieve this is through the use of visual aids, laboratory demonstrations, multimedia animations, videotapes, humor, and of course, enthusiasm. Motivation can be achieved through experiential learning and trying to instill a sense of impact on technical results. To achieve this sense of impact, I regularly center my courses around group (hardware) design projects. Team design projects provide opportunities for students to relate their work experience (co-op, full-time jobs, or research) to course material. They create relevance and a sense of importance for abstract theory. They challenge students in problem solving, interpersonal relationships, and determining connections between different course topics.
Finally, as a teacher, I am not afraid to learn from students. Teaching at Northeastern University has provided me opportunities to interact with students who, at times – due to co-op or full-time jobs, have more experience than me in dealing with many technologies. Together with my students, I grow and learn in each class that I teach. This is invigorating and challenging, but most importantly, provides me immense satisfaction.