Teaching Portfolio

Personal Statement | Former Students About My Teaching | Observers About My Teaching

Biljana Belamaric-Wilsey,
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Personal Statement on Teaching

The instructional principles I try to implement in my teaching are the intersections of theory I was exposed to in pedagogy classes for the M.A. in English at the University of Memphis, pedagogical theories I was introduced to as a graduate teaching consultant at the Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC-CH, the experience putting these theories into practice in the classes I have taught, and recollections of what strategies of my own teachers worked or did not work for me as a student.

From this valuable experience and experimentation, I have concluded that I prefer a classroom where students are actively involved and contribute to the teaching/learning process, which I see as conducted in both directions: from teacher to student and student to teacher. I think that the 80/20 rule, with the students speaking 80% of the class time, and the teacher speaking 20% of the time, though hard to implement for the teacher, is conducive to learning by doing. It is precisely the abilities learned this way that we as humans remember then longest. I do not believe in the role of a teacher as an all-knowing lecturer, but as a facilitator for learning. Rather than considering myself a teacher with all the right answers, I would like to think of myself as a teacher with all the right questions. I think the latter is also infinitely harder to do than the former. It is a challenge for the teacher, but a more rewarding experience in the long run, because the students experience a greater sense of accomplishment, which reflects in their relationship with the teacher and, more importantly, with the subject matter. This is something that as an instructor, I will be working toward perpetually.

I am a very energetic person, and hence a very energetic teacher. I like to keep the students’ energy levels high, as well. I believe that if there is energy in a room or a class, time flies, students and teacher alike are enjoying themselves, and the students do not even realize that they are learning. As a student, my favorite and best teachers were those who facilitated my learning without me realizing it. It is this environment that I like to contribute to as a teacher as well. At the same time, I feel that a relaxed class atmosphere is also very valuable for the students. It is one of my goals as a teacher to put the students at ease with the subject matter and with me, and to create a sense of a community within the class. I believe that only a relaxed atmosphere can allow the students to be comfortable enough to ask questions, which in turn benefits their learning process.

I think of myself as an eclectic teacher. Since I have taught mostly language classes, I can only speak of my experiences relating to teaching foreign language. Apart from teaching “from the book,” I like to also implement additional class activities, which are, in my opinion, just as valuable for the students, if not even more valuable. Textbooks do not offer enough realistic scenarios for the students to use their knowledge and are often too restricted to grammar-based and linguistics-based approaches to language. In my opinion, elements of the real world also have to be present in order to make the learning meaningful and valuable, which for me is a very important goal as an instructor. Similarly, while I think the theory of teaching is important, I believe that it is experiences with students, teaching, and learning from other instructors’ experiences that in the real world create a good teacher.

I feel that there is much to be learned from observation comments, as well as from conversations with other instructors, and for these reasons I welcome observation and discussions regarding pedagogical strategies and best practices. I believe that instructors are to a certain extent experimenters, who have to be fluent in a variety of teaching approaches to accomodate various topics, learning styles, and student interests in our diverse classrooms. I also take student evaluations seriously and attempt to improve the course contents as well as adapt my teaching style to best serve the students' needs and encourage life-long learning.

Former Students About My Teaching

RUSS 001: Beginning Russian, First Semester, Fall 2003

~Biljana has done an excellent job teaching this course! She is by far the best foreign language instructor I have ever had. I have learned more Russian from her in one semester than I did of Spanish after 2 semesters. She has really tried to get everyone involved and interested in learning the subject during class. I also appreciate the fact that she is willing to give an extra class on fridays sometimes in preparation for a coming test. Thats her personal time that she could be working on her graduate work but instead she wants to help us all do well on our Russian one exams. I really don't see how she could improve. Shes already doing an excellent job!!

~The class is excellent. I've really enjoyed learning the material. However, on occasion I feel overloaded at the tremendous amount of material covered in such a short period of time. I have not really felt the benefit of the online exercises. Additionally, the listening tape from the cirriculum is extremely difficult to follow. It is poor quality and difficult to hear the speakers. I love the material that we're learning, and it flows very well.

~The best part of this course is the oppurtunity to speak and hear the language in class. While it is difficult to allow 13 people to speak every class, I feel that the instructor is doing an excellent job of trying to give everyone that oppurtunity. I think it would be helpful for the instructor to speak in Russian more in class so that we would have more oppurtunity to hear how the language should sound.

~I just wanted to thank you again for the semester. Although I won't be continuing Russian (at least next semester), I do feel like I learned a lot and will have a solid base to start from if I decide to pursue the language further.

LING/SLAV 75: Languages and Nationalism, Fall 2002

~Now that I'm not your student, I can tell you that I really enjoyed your class without fear of sucking up. I learned a lot and it was nice to have a teacher who was so involved and concerned about her students. Thanks for a great semester.

~I liked the course very much. I espically liked the Ebonics controversy. If i was able to change anything with the course, i'm not sure that i would change anything. I feel that it was an overall good course. I have even recomended it to some friends!

~The worst part of this course was the readings which are A) too lengthy at times, and B) can be quite difficult to read and get what is needed out of them. The instructor has done a marvelous job handling the class considering the limitations inherent in the subject matter. She has gone to great effort to engage the class and make the material interesting and comprehensible. More coherent and concise readings could greatly improve the course.

Observers About My Teaching

h4>RUSS 002: Beginning Russian, Second Semester, Spring 2004 ~Special strengths: organization, rapport with students, enthusiastic approach to teaching. Biljana's students are unusually engaged in the process of learning - they act as if mastering Russian really matters to them.

RUSS 001: Beginning Russian, First Semester, Fall 2003

~Special strengths: rapport with students, preparation, pacing - these are great! Covered a lot of material. Great introductions to ideas! She used every minute effectively.

~Special strengths: Biljana is a dynamic teacher liked by her students.

LING/SLAV 75: Languages and Nationalism, Fall 2002

~I was impressed by the instructor's mastery of the material, as well as the energy and enthusiasm with which she imparted it. The students clearly respond well to the atmosphere of active intellectual engagement that has been established in the course.

~...Biljana impressed me in this session as a well-prepared, energetic, intelligent, and technologically savvy instructor who pays keen attention to her students, maintains good eye contact, and rarely falters in her delivery of information. With admirable self-confidence for a new TF [teaching fellow], she primarily positioned herself in front of the podium during the lecture. ... Biljana fielded substantive questions very well (one student, for example, queried her about the effects of pan-Slavism in the Yugoslav region) and she regularly asked her students if they had questions about what she had just presented.

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