Fabian Alfie

The University of Arizona has the fifth largest Italian Program in the United States--and the largest undergraduate-only Italian program in the country!

Orvieto students in 2007

Prof. Alfie with his Italian students in Orvieto, Italy (June 2007)

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

As teachers, faculty members in Italian have several roles.  We are language instructors skilled in second language acquisition; we conduct General Education courses dealing with broad aspects of Italian culture in English translation; and we are specialists teaching classes with a tight focus on aspects of the culture and literature of Italy to advanced Majors and Minors.  Each role requires a different approach, with the broadest distinction needing to be made between the language- and the so-called content-courses.  The attitudes and techniques appropriate for one type of lesson, and even for the learning-level of the students, might not be suitable for the others.  I often need to re-evaluate my approach from semester to semester, and from class to class.  Nevertheless, beneath the different styles lies a core philosophy about the value of instruction.  If I had to sum up that philosophy, it would be with the phrase, “leading by serving.”

Whom, then, or what do I serve when I teach?  The answer is two-fold: first, undoubtedly, are the students.  The students are, of course, the real purpose for the existence of institutions of higher learning.  Several years ago, I made an observation that firmly cemented this notion for me: in Italian, the verb “to teach,” insegnare, is a dative verb, meaning that it requires an indirect object; you teach something to someone.  Put simply, at its core teaching is an act of communication between two human beings.  It is fundamentally an interpersonal interaction between someone who has dedicated her / his life to study (i.e., the professor) and those who have just embarked on that journey (i.e., the students).  Although my motto begins with the verb “leading,” in my mind teaching implies humility on the part of the instructor.  The educational needs of the students are primary.  Teaching is really about connecting with the students, about making the sometimes arcane material relevant to them and their lives.  Instruction requires inspiring interest in the material, whether by illustrating its complexity or by discussing its applicability.  It is about demonstrating that what occurs in the classroom during a semester is only a small part of a life-long interest in a topic.  However it may be manifested, only when the connection between intelligent human beings takes place in a classroom does the profession of teaching take on a deeper significance.

None of this is to say that the students set the agenda.  When I teach I also consider myself in service to the material.  I believe deeply in the importance of the subject matters I teach.  For this reason, I hold the students to high standards and expect them to maximize their exposure to the material during the semester.  Similarly I try to convey my love of the topic to them.  I know well the importance of studying a foreign language.  The direct contact with another culture through study abroad, and the indirect contact of that culture through classroom exposure, can change a person.  Similarly, I know personally how the reading of great works of literature, and the comprehension of their insightful expressions of philosophy, can bring about a transformation in an individual.  These personal transformations are almost never sudden Damascene conversions; they are often part of a slow process of evolution that may come to fruition over the course of several months, or even years.  But I know that, if presented well, the material will alter the trajectories of my students’ lives, sometimes subtly and sometimes profoundly.  So to return to the question posed above: whom or what do I serve?  For the purposes of articulating a teaching philosophy, I need to distinguish between the material and the students.  But that is clearly a false dichotomy.  I see my diverse subject matters as directly impacting my students in a deep way.  In short, to my way of thinking, serving the material means serving the students.