Tobias Boes University of Notre Dame

Tobias Boes

teaching philosophy

Teaching is without a doubt the most rewarding part of my professional life.  When I was eighteen years old, my outlook on the world was profoundly broadened by the classes that I took at Reed College, and I am proud to be working at a university that combines the aspirations of a top-tier research institution with the devotion to undergraduate education more typical of a small liberal arts college.

I divide my teaching time at Notre Dame equally between German language and German literature & culture classes.  Rather than treat the former merely as “preparatory” or “service” courses, my goal throughout the years has instead been to challenge my students to treat the materials that I teach them – whether they be the principal parts of verbs or the close reading skills necessary to read Thomas Mann in the original – as tools for further inquiry into a foreign culture.

Given this basic ambition, I am especially proud of the many students whom I have successfully motivated to study abroad in Berlin, to apply for Fulbright and DAAD grants, and to participate in senior theses and independent projects.  Paradoxical as this may sound, I do not believe that the most important learning experiences take place in the classroom.  Instead, real learning happens the moment my students take charge of their lives, and my aim in the classroom can merely be to equip them with the optimal tools for their chosen endeavors.

One way in which I try to implement this particular teaching philosophy is by deemphasizing traditional forms of assessment, such as the test or even the standard academic essay, and by instead involving my students in various independent projects, many of which I web publish in order to break out of the confines of the classroom.  Thus, students in my freshman seminar “Fictions of the Known World” create digital maps to accompany classic works of fiction, which are then posted to a website that makes them available to K-12 teachers, while students in my upper-division courses create content for scholarly Wikis.

The ultimate criterion by which any teacher’s effectiveness is measured comes, I believe, at commencement.  When I do my job right, my students will set out into the world fortified not only with cultural knowledge and linguistic skills, but also with a critical intelligence, empathetic mind, and an independent spirit.