Andrew Bailey

Assistant Professor of Humanities (Philosophy)

What do you think is special about teaching at Yale-NUS? What makes teaching here different from teaching elsewhere?

Bailey:   I find the students here are unpredictable, often in very delightful way. I don’t know quite how students here will reply to a given question. I feel like that probably won’t change even though I have gotten to know the student body pretty well. I still get surprised. And I say that’s also delightful because it keeps teaching interesting. We don’t know how students will reply to questions or how they will react to assignments or what they will do when you put them in a real situation. So for me, that is one of the defining elements of being a professor here.

How would you describe your teaching style?

Bailey:   I like to pursue the human side of the classroom; that is to get to know my students as human beings and not just as intellects. They are not merely thinkers, they are also feelers and actors. And I think our students need us to meet them where they are as human beings, not just as walking book memorizers, but as something more. So I try to take that into account in the kinds of question I ask in the classroom and the ways I interact with students. I don’t know if that is distinctive enough to call a distinctive teaching style but that is something that I keep in mind in my teaching.

How do you know when a class is going well?

Bailey:   There are two hallmarks for me to know a class is going well. One is when people stay afterward to talk that is usually a good sign, that is probably universal. That means that they are engaged they are interested, that they are curious. It means that there is something happening in their head that is not over yet. And I think that if we are doing anything worthwhile in the classroom, it shouldn’t be over when the class time ends, so that is a good sign.

Something more peculiar to philosophy specifically I think is confusion. I think if students feel confused that means we are on the right track because philosophy is really hard. And if you feel like, oh, yeah, that is it, I got the answer, I am done, then you probably didn’t understand the question in the first place, so students reply to questions with their other questions and they can sharpen it and then they really feel deeply puzzled or confused, then I think, yeah, actually you are doing philosophy. I don’t want you to know something at the end of the class, I want you to have a better question and we have a better question that often just comes with the feeling of being lost.

What has been one of your best moments of teaching here at Yale-NUS?

Bailey:   There is almost always that turning point in the semester when I get a new group of students where we form the necessary personal connection and then we can actually just work together on a philosophical problem. And it is normally quite early in the semester, but sometimes it can come really late. You want it to happen as early as possible so you can just sort of get to work together because philosophy, I think, is something that cannot be done alone, you have to do it with the help of your peers and as a group, it is a communal activity.

What do you think is the biggest challenge when it comes to teaching?

Bailey:   What I find challenging is try to get into somebody else’s head and figure out how I can meet them where they are, not where I was when was his age or what I think I would have been had I been like her. You are trying to imagine, okay what is a 19 year old Singaporean woman need to hear to under this example from Plato that is really hard. You can’t just put yourself in their shoes, you can’t guess, you need to talk and I think as a group in particular helps. This is done through trial and error.