Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2013

Faculty Award winner

Peter Jacques

 College of Sciences

 Political Science

My teaching philosophy is simple: cultivate what works for students! Executing this philosophy is decidedly more difficult than just saying it, but my goal is to engage students in the classroom in a way that effectively helps them learn. Long lectures do not appear to be as effective as we used to think (though there is a time and place for them), so we need to do a lot more if we want to be successful.

Central to what works for students is involving them in their own education more comprehensively, and this means they need to write and speak, both in and out of class, more often. Writing is particularly important to the thinking process. This is not the same as assigning a research paper for the end of the semester or using writing as vehicle to simply carry ideas, but instilling the habit of writing as a practice for thinking itself. The practice of writing involves revision and re-thinking things through in a way that allows the student's voice to mature and evolve. In this way, the student's mind also evolves and has a chance to test new waters and examine new horizons.

Consequently, every single class I teach uses writing-as-thinking as a key tool, where we use small-stakes, small assignments that allow for risk-taking by the students that then build up to both more formal writing assignments and standard exams. What works for students is to be actively working out problems using concepts we teach them; then, if we use these concepts as a bridge to larger ideas like theories, which themselves bridge to other concerns like research processes, the Gestalt of learning begins to gel!

Another philosophy I carry with me into the classroom is that students want to be challenged, and they will rise to the standards we set. I set high standards in my courses that include a heavy semester schedule and very involved assessments of their work. Some students don't like this, and they let me know in the student evaluations. However, enough students want to take pride in their work, just like anyone else. Pride in one's work is a fundamental aspect of our self-worth, both on the individual and institutional levels, and when we raise the bar some will complain, but many will say, "Bring it on!" Students want to know they are coming out of UCF with an education they can take pride in, and that sentiment starts with work we do with our students on assignments, across classes, and across curriculums and through professional development.

My teaching philosophy is to pursue teaching techniques that involve students in their own education, not just for certification but as a civic act of improving ourselves and improving society.