Teaching Philosophy
Nathan S. Werner, Ph.D.

    The essence of my teaching philosophy is the creation of a learning environment that encourages enlightening and transformative experiences for each student under my careful and deliberate mentorship. This has manifest in different ways for each of the courses that I teach. For example, the general lesson plan of the freshmen-level chemistry courses that I instruct includes traditional lecture days and problem set days. On lecture days, I introduce new content, discuss vocabulary, link content to previous knowledge, and provide students with the big picture. This allows my students to see the forest before they begin to get lost in the trees. A problem set is then assigned and students are asked to practice the assignment out of class. On the following day we work the challenging parts of the assignment together. I focus on general problem solving skills while detailing from start to finish how to solve these challenging problems. The second phase of the course allows students the integral mentorship that serves as a road map for them to find solutions to difficult problems. The semi-flipped classroom that I employ has been a very effective way to teach general chemistry and is evident in the excellent standardized exam scores of my students.
    I work with two different types of students in the freshmen and sophomore level (organic) chemistry courses that I teach. Students in my freshmen level chemistry course may not have completed a rigorous chemistry course. In these courses, I work to make sure that every student is brought up to a satisfactory level. Moreover, to ensure that every student is keeping up with the workload, which tends to be higher than they are accustomed to, discrete assignments are assigned and collected every 2 days. Students in my organic chemistry courses tend to be more self-motivated and are often very goal-oriented. Many of these students intend to apply to highly competitive post-baccalaureate programs. Therefore, in my organic chemistry courses, I encourage the student to study and develop as much as they possibly can. Students are prodded to seek concept mastery, think deeply about course content, and always question their assumptions. Actual homework assignments are not collected, and the motivation to excel in understanding the course content rests increasingly on the student. I then use quizzes as formative assessments for these students to discern if they are on-track.
    Motivating my students to learn is very important to me. Many of my students will spend many hours studying the difficult and sometimes abstract concepts of chemistry. This can be a difficult process for those students who don’t understand why they were made to study a seemingly esoteric subject. I typically use two methods to motivate students to study chemistry: passion and applicability. I truly love chemistry, and it is easy for me to communicate this to my students by my excitement during lectures. But, I think chemistry is interesting because I can see how it fits into everything around me. However, in many cases my students lack this perspective. Therefore, at every opportunity I deliberately point out concepts that are applicable to their life. My students can then decide for themselves if the reasons that I love chemistry are persuasive enough for them to also love chemistry.
    I strive to ensure that each student knows that they are important to me. This usually takes the form of learning all of my students’ names, knowing each student personally and their needs individually, being available to answer questions by email, during office hours, or by appointment, and making sure every student feels comfortable participating in class discussions. I ponder student feedback and continually add quality of life improvements to my courses. I make my academic expectations of each student clear, encourage each student to set high personal goals, and then tenaciously coach them to achieve their goals. As an alumnus of SUU, I know that it was the personal student-professor interaction that made my education at SUU one-of-a-kind. I try to embody the best of SUU in every interaction that I have with my students.