Some Reflections on Teaching


Teaching in its core is a process of reciprocal character building. By reciprocal character building, I mean a lifelong process of learning from teaching. Character building requires high level of self-awareness and like any process; it requires time, therefore, patience. It is character building because to be a good teacher, one needs to internalize certain traits and values that only solidify through time. In fact, we can talk about a class of essential teaching traits and call them intellectual virtues[1]. To mention a few, virtues such as effective listening, clarity in speech, clear communications, ability to ask right questions, capturing students’ attention, analytical mind, and ability to synthesize information are some of the few intellectual virtues that an effective teaching requires. However, these virtues are obtainable through habitual long-term practices. Teaching for me is an opportunity to actualize these intellectual virtues in myself. There are other necessary intellectual virtues that I think are necessary for students to learn. A good learner needs also to develop certain intellectual virtues similar to the teacher’s virtues, to mention a few, open-mildness, curiosity, effective listening, and valuing learning. My teaching philosophy and method constructed so that I can develop these virtues.[2]

Theories and Methods

My teaching philosophy is centered on enhancing students’ abilities of thinking and understanding. As psychology of many of us indicates, thinking is a difficult task. From an evolutionary point of view, we are programed to think mostly when there is an immediate external threat. In a “normal” situation, we tend to go with the current and stay within our comfort zones. This is true also historically. As our historical experiences indicate, it is in the time of sociopolitical crisis in which thinking becomes a necessity. For instance, in the Late Medieval and early modern time, when an old world was dying and a new world was yet to be born, we are witnessing extensive intellectual activities. Regardless, the point is that despite evolutionary obstacles, we have certain obstacles against thinking that are exclusive to our modern time. In fact, teaching students thinking in a world in which there are many forces that encourage them to avoid thinking is extremely challenging. As a result, a teacher’s task to teach thinking is highly difficult, especially in today’s loud and distracting world. We are told that with the advancement of technology and science, we are able to employ computers and smart devices to think for us and solve our problems. There are some popular and attractive ideologies that discourage thinking by claiming that they have found ultimate solutions for human’s most complex problems. The media glamorizes some certain way of life that thinking is reduced to the skills of obtaining material goods only. Mostly, humanities are viewed as luxuries that student take in small doses. It is not a rosy time for teaching thinking. I think as teachers, we need to teach students to thinks about these trends of thoughtlessness.

Thinking partially requires acknowledging complexity of reality and avoiding the temptation to give up to the ideologies that offer oversimplified solutions. However, the question that every genuine teacher is facing is that despite all the obstacles against thinking and temptations that encourage thoughtlessness, how can we redirect our students’ attention toward genuine thinking? How can we help students to not only to avoid viewing thinking as a chore, but view it as a joyful intellectual activity? Furthermore, how can we help them to develop essential intellectual virtues? My teaching philosophy is an attempt to respond to the above concerns.

For me, teaching is turning students from passive recipient of information into active participants of learning through employing a Socratic way of conversation. I never have found transmitting “knowledge” to students as a sufficient condition of teaching.

To me, teaching is a multifaceted intellectual activity. What makes teaching exciting is combination of varieties of intellectual activities that happen at the same time. There is no doubt, that teaching new ideas should be an important component of teaching, but teaching should not stop there. It is about how to analyze and synthetize new ideas in the way that it provides better understanding of our surrounding, others, and ourselves.

Furthermore, another main teaching method that I use is to redirects students’ intellectual attentions by first employing a critical analysis of what they already cherish blindly and then to consider the alternative views. Our opinions are usually our judgments about facts or about other opinions. Judgments can be true or false, fair or unfair. Hence, making judgment needs to be learned, especially in our society that we have to engage in conversations with others, and sometimes with opponents, about a range of issues. Hence, I view teaching students how to think as a vital part of their individual and public life.

I view teaching my students intellectual humility as an essential way for their intellectual growth. One might argue that human beings are incapable of obtaining the truth due to their limitations in reason. However, one also can argue for a more obtainable goal, that is, possibility and desirability of acknowledging our false beliefs or opinions. We might grant that the truth is not obtainable; however, a collective collaboration for discovering falsehood is not only possible but also highly desirable. This optimistic epistemology opens the possibility of discovering falsehood and thinking as a collective collaboration for discovering flaws in our opinions. Teaching students this possibility is giving them intellectual hope to view thinking not only useful but also enjoyable.

I agree with Ratcliffe’s analysis of the bias view on rhetoric, which reduces rhetoric to teaching writing and reading. To her, this reductionist view sacrifices listening in favor of writing and reading while it is equally important as other important components of rhetoric. Therefore, she attempts to give a broader definition of rhetorical listening to respond to the flaws of reductionist composition studies. The main goal is to include a variety of ignored discourses. Traditionally, listening has been subordinated to writing and listening; it viewed as the less important component of rhetoric and something that we all always do and no need to be studied. According to her, biases against listening are deep-rooted in the history of Western theories of rhetoric. She maintains that although Aristotle discusses the importance of analyzing speech, he is blameworthy for not focusing on how to listen. To conquer these biases against listening, she tries to shift the focus of rhetoric toward listening.

She believes that rhetorical listening exhibits the communicative potentialities needed for a more comprehensive compositions inquiries in order to be friendlier to the cross-cultural discussions. Following Heidegger’s contention about the phenomenon of forgetfulness and failure to listen to the Being in the Western history of thoughts, she begins her inquiry by an etymological analysis of logos. The noun logos and the verb legein both mean “saying” and at the same time “laying.” The second sense of legein is laying someone’s speech before us, so it entails listening. It is this latter sense of listening in logos that has been neglected in the history of rhetoric, according to Ratcliffe. However, as the etymology of logos indicates, saying and listening are closely interconnected. Ratcliffe attempts to revive this forgotten aspect of logos.[3]

I think it is reasonable to think that listening dooms worthy only if we believe that a genuine conversation is possible. By the genuine conversation, I mean a conversation that is believed by the interlocutors as a way of pursuing the truth. For this reason, what authenticates listening and worthy of practice is possibility of objective truth. In the absence of truth, listening loses its value too. Hence, teaching rhetorical listening is insufficient if it is not paired with teaching the value of pursuing the truth. It is the area that ancients’ wisdom about the role of character building in education comes into play. What I have learned from Aristotelian pedagogy, and it is useful for rhetorical listening, is that one of the main goals in education should be character building so that students are able to appreciate the nobility of pursuing the truth.

In the end, whenever I teach, I always try to find an effective way to convey my ideas. For this reason, I think an effective teaching involves an effective self-reflection, too. After each class, I review my teaching retrospectively, what I have said, how I have said, what were students’ responses, what were my flaws, and how I can overcome those flaws? Keeping a teaching journal has helped me tremendously to accomplish these goals. Journaling about my teaching has helped me tremendously to think more clearly about my teaching skills and flaws.

Practices of Teaching

It has happened many times that my students called a particular idea false by calling it old. Often, my first response to this kind of misjudgment is to ask them whether ideas are similar to technology or not. We expect that the newer technology is more efficient and better the old one. In this context, old means less efficient and having more flaws. However, I try to show my students that this judgment is not applicable to ideas. New ideas can be false and even dangerous, and old ideas can be true and more useful. I ask them to imagine the time that fascism was introduced to people for the first time. For the contemporaries, this was a novel, attractive ideology. It claimed to be scientific, useful, open to employ new technology, and even liberating. It gave people a sense of identity. The opponents were considered as opponents of novelty and new science. Today, we know that these views were dangerous and were part of a dangerous ideology. If one was subscribed to their presumptions, that was equating the new with truth and advancement, then they would likely to disarm themselves intellectually and unable themselves to criticize fascism. I have found this line of arguments convincing to my students or at least provide them some foods for thought.

Once to draw my students’ attention to the role of presumptions in shaping our understanding of reality, I did a little of performance. First day of the class, I went to the class twenty minutes earlier than the class time. On the board, I wrote, “Professor Amin will be ten minutes late today,” then I sat on a chair in the area that students supposed to sit. Gradually, students entered the class, and they started to talk to me, thinking that I was one of them taking the class. I pretended that I was a student. When all students came to the class, I walked toward the front of class behind he podium. Then I told them that I was their teacher. They were all confused and did not know should believe me or not. Some of them laughed, showing that they thought I was kidding. I asked them how many of them thought I was a teacher and how many thought that I was a student. The class was divided. Some of them believed I was a teacher and some believed that I was a student; the rest just did not have any idea. Eventually, as a metacognitive practice, I asked each of them to review the reasons that made them to think either I was a teacher or a student. Through this metacognitive practice, they would see which presumptions led them to their judgments. The objective of this activity was to learn the role of presumptions in our judgments and how to reflect critically on presumptions. In the rest of semester, I drew on this activity and our concluding discussions.


Another useful and memorable class activities that I had this semester, and students responded positively, was about analyzing a picture. It was the rabbit-duck picture. This activity’s main component was metacognition practices and also involved critical reflections on belief formation. The picture is very simple and represents a duck and at the same times a rabbit. However, the simplicity of the picture introduces complex puzzles.

We look at the picture, and we see a rabbit, and we look at it again at we see a duck. We see two things while the picture is the same. We even do not need to change our perspective to see two things. The picture remains the same, and our perspective remains the same. However, we see two different things. How can we explain that? Every adequate explanation needs to acknowledge the complexity of the issue. In fact, an issue that seemed so simple in the first glance becomes extremely puzzling. From students’ responses, I could tell that it was engaging. I liked the fact that they were puzzled and tried to solve the puzzle. My point was to show them that things, even though they might appear simple to us, are not that simple. Hence, seeing the complex reality that we live in requires deep thinking.


            As I tried to indicate above, as a teacher, I define my job as an attempt to teach students thinking. I view thoughtlessness as the most dangerous thing that can happen to a person or a culture. Unfortunately, in our today’s world there are powerful forces that reinforce thoughtlessness. Teaching, for me, is a way of life to fight the forces that tried to push us down to the level of sub-humans by promoting thoughtlessness.      


[1] I borrow the notion of intellectual virtues from Aristotle in his book Nichomachean Ethics, where he discusses four classes of virtues, one being intellectual virtues.

[2] I cannot help to remember a humorous story from a class that I taught on Iranian cinema at Spring 2013 at OU. In the beginning of the semester, I explained to students that understanding Iranian culture in general and classical literature is essential to have a good grasp of Iranian cinema. So since Persian classical literature is heavily influenced by Sufism, I explained Sufism whenever in the movies there were references. Several months after the end of semester, a student from the class emailed me and told me that he had converted to Sufism because of my class. I did not know to view this as an accomplishment or as an instance of failure. First thing that came to my mind was that I was not preaching Sufism in my class and tried to explained things objectively as mush as it was possible for me. However, by character building I do not mean to pursue students to adopt certain doctrines. Education will suffer if it is replaced by indoctrination.

[3] I agree with the sprit of her criticism about the traditional rhetoric, but I cannot agree with extent of her criticism. Socratic dialogues-based of philosophizing is operates on active listening. Furthermore, Plato’s modification of Socratic dialogues where he tries to imitate a form of writing that is closer to the form of dialogue, listening is at the center of learning and teaching. I think the Socratic way of teaching can responds to the problem of abandoning listening in composition studies.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. Trans. David Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press.        1998. Print.

Heidegger, Martin. Language, Poetry, Thought. New York: Harper Perennial Modern       Classics. 2013. Print.

Ratcliffe, Krista. “Rhetorical Listening: A Trope for Interpretive Invention and a ‘Code of           Cross-Cultural Conduct.’” Vol. 51, No. 2. Dec., 1999, pp. 195-224.

Vivian, Bradford. Being Made Strange: rhetoric beyond representation. New York:           State University of New York Press. 2004.Print.

Wardy, R. The Birth of Rhetoric: Gorgias, Plato and their Successors, London:        Routledge. 1996. Print.


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