James W. Jordan (PhD)Core Faculty, Director of Field Studies Program
Department of Environmental Studies
The best teachers I have had throughout my academic career were effective and memorable because of who they were and what they communicated as much about life and learning as about a particular subject matter. Knowledge of content and experience were important certainly, but enthusiasm, wonder, and respect for me as a person and learner were critical – those attributes modeled for me the art of teaching and learning and stressed the importance of leveraging the best from students by encouraging them to bring their passions and aspirations to the material. My best teachers are learners as much as they are instructors.
Because everyone’s learning styles are somewhat unique and because even my learning style varies from day to day and year to year, I focus on engaging students in a variety of instructional modes and styles that emphasize the how and why of observations, interpretations, and problems. Fundamentally I believe that the most enduring learning is accomplished by doing (and having fun doing it) – one cannot become proficient at carpentry by reading and being told about it. On the other hand, the theoretical and methodological precepts of a given curriculum or topic are essential and not necessarily amendable to ‘doing’; a well-crafted lecture or presentation can be critical for framing a topic and setting up questions, discussions, activities, and solutions.
I do not believe that there is a single ‘best’ approach to, or method of, teaching, just as I do not believe that there is a best or single approach to or method of learning. I strive to be an engaging and effective teacher by drawing on my experience and content knowledge, by trying to understand the backgrounds, strengths, needs, and career orientations of students, and by encouraging a sense of wonder and enthusiasm for the subject matter that resonates with students’ needs and expectations while ensuring that the learning outcomes for my courses are met. I enjoy teaching because it is part of a learning process, an iterative and constructive process; a process that really has no end point. In this sense it is the work and reward of continuous improvement.