Teaching statement

At school, en l’an 2000 As a member of multiple search committees for professors and lecturers, I have had to read more than a few “teaching statements”. Most were empty of meaningful content, a few made claims I couldn’t agree with and a few had something interesting to say about teaching. Every time I read one such statement, I am reminded that I never wrote one. Maybe it’s time I should, hence this page.

I have been teaching for more than 20 years now, and I have always taken my teaching very seriously, so I suppose I should have some sort of a “teaching philosophy” by now. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m sure it has evolved over time (at a minimum, from being a student, a TA and an instructor in France before moving to the US, some adjustment was needed…).

One thing I have started to realize is how different our situation in science and engineering is compared to the humanities. The work of professors there is in many ways more difficult (and more rewarding) than ours. If one thinks about it, helping students make sense of some of the fundamental principles underlying our human nature and helping them find meaning to their lives is a much grander occupation than to teach programming or algorithms. The “Professor so and so changed my life” stories can be trite or genuine, but they belong more to those fields than to ours. On the other hand, humanities professors can fail miserably at their job and start to teach complete nonsense (many of them do these days) and get away with it. It’s more difficult for us, or screens will go dark, bridges will collapse and planes will crash. In other words, I’m not sure what we do deserves something as ambitious as a “teaching philosophy”, but we still need to get it right.

I think I can identify a few attributes of my teaching style, whether they amount to a “teaching philosophy” or not. My focus here is on classroom teaching, not mentoring of graduate students, which is a topic for another day.

All in all, I don’t think my teaching style is off the charts. CS671 may not be the most typical programming languages course and CS745/845 the most typical theory course, but they cover material that is present, in one form or another, in many CS curricula. And appart from a French accent and an occasional odd choice of English words, I consider myself a fairly conventional teacher. (It’s all relative: imagine a professor who is pacing the classroom as he teaches, but without touching the floor, stepping from student desk to student desk; I had one as an undergraduate.)