Teaching Philosophy

Catch ‘em Doing Something Right


The Teaching Philosophy and Methodologies of Wendy “Say” Dempsay Skiles


When I worked as a Residential Counselor for court experienced youth in a residential setting, we use to have a saying, “Catch ‘em doing something right.” It is a simple philosophy, but like all good ones, it provides great returns. In this work environment, it is easy to catch a kid doing something s/he should not be doing, but when one strives to give much needed attention to kids doing something right, better acting kids is the netted result.


In working to carry this simple philosophy with me as an educator, I remember how stressful it can be to show photos during a critique. Knowing that today’s student can still feel this same anxiety, I work to relieve this unease by opening constructive communication with each student in finding what works well in the photograph. This does not mean that disregard the areas that need improvement. On the contrary, these areas are just the next step for a student to take. Moving forward, I explain possible reasons for not reaching a goal along with various methods s/he can take to obtain the desired shot. When time and situation warrant it, in class practice is provided to demonstrate the differences.


I am also a big believer in teaching to every student by creating classes that teach to various learning styles, whether they are audible, visual, or kinesthetic. Classes often contain lectures, examples of work demonstrating the lesson and in class practice so that I am readily available as questions come up.


These diverse methods of instruction are tailored after my favorite teacher of eighth grade algebra, Mr. McNulty. Not only did Mr. McNulty provide a safe learning environment where students were encouraged to ask questions, he also provided at least three ways to think about each equation.  When we were presented with a new concept, Mr. McNulty would ask for a raise of hands of who did not understand the new material. Those that did not were not shy about raising hands. Mr. McNulty would then go on to describe the same equation by another means and would continue to ask for raised hands until all students knew how to work with the new concept. In the long run I have come to realize that he did not teach us algebra as much as he taught us how to think. This is the experience I make every effort to give to my students today.


At the start of every term I appraise my students of the expectations I have for the class and myself.  Beginning students quickly learn that I don’t expect them to know how to photograph, but I do expect them to ask questions, so they may better learn. My classrooms are also a safe environment to try out new techniques for different resulting images. Mistakes are expected, but we should look at them for what they really are, unexpected results that give way to learning opportunities.


Provided these first expectations are reached, students will find the work challenging at an acceptable level and fruitful because of it. In return for all this work, I give prompt, clear feedback on all work shown to me, answer all questions asked of me, and fairness when grading. By the end of term, I am seeing results any visual teacher would be proud to brag about.