Statement of Teaching Philosophy
If university education means anything beyond the processing of human beings into expected roles, through credit hours, tests, and grades […] it implies an ethical and intellectual contract between teacher and student. This contract must remain intuitive, dynamic, unwritten; but we must turn to it again and again if learning is to be reclaimed from the depersonalizing and cheapening pressures of the present-day academic scene. - Adrienne Rich, “Claiming an Education”
Why do I teach? Teaching, like an education, is a privilege. This fact should not be forgotten in the minutiae and drudgery of day-to-day tasks, but embraced and claimed as an ever-evolving imperative that sees knowledge as a goal unto itself. I teach because it is a privilege to be a part of this process, and I see no higher purpose than engagement in this intellectual exchange.
Regardless of the course, the overarching objective I bring to the classroom is the empowerment of students to claim their own education. I demand that students take an active role in their learning experience, and I assist in this process through my selection of course materials, facilitation of discussion, and feedback on assignments. In order to cultivate an environment that encourages participation, I keep my students at the forefront of my lesson planning. At the beginning of each class I give them a clear outline of the day’s goals, and while I always have an organized and lucid plan prepared, I am not afraid to adapt my lesson to the response and interests of the class.
Alongside the class’ primary texts, I often use popular media in the classroom (such as samples from film, television, and contemporary music) to enter discussion, as I feel it is an invaluable tool for engaging students. It allows them to interrogate topics—such as gender, class, and race—with which they may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar, by framing conversations around texts that they know and are already discussing with their peers. This approach becomes an entryway to examining the political and ethical implications of these issues in a variety of situations and settings, which I then use to connect back to the assigned readings and topics for the course. For example, a short documentary on African-American hairstyles can serve as the starting point to a discussion on race and beauty in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, while a clip from Jersey Shore can open a dialogue on changing perceptions of ethnicity and masculinity in American culture. My goal is always to situate my subject matter into larger historical, sociological, and theoretical frameworks, and to facilitate this I provide the necessary context so that my students can draw meaning and develop analytical skills that are applicable to a number of academic disciplines and careers.
In addition to various media, I have integrated technology into classroom discussions through the use of PowerPoint and Turning Technologies’ audience response system. Using “clickers,” equipped mobile devices, or laptops, students are able to actively participate in lectures by responding to multiple choice questions and classroom polls. In providing immediate feedback through charts and graphs, students are able to gauge their understanding of the day’s material, compare their understanding of the material to that of their classmates, and to further engage in the learning process. I find the option of anonymous polling particularly stimulating and beneficial to class discussion. This also allows me to better determine my students understanding of certain topics, and I am thus able to immediately adjust my teaching style and methods in order to meet the needs of the class. For example, if I find that a large percentage of the class is unable to identify the main argument of the day’s reading or remember a key definition from a previous lecture, I am able to quickly clear up any confusion or elaborate on certain points before moving ahead with discussion. Students appreciate this level of instantaneous engagement, which allows them to participate and take an active role in shaping their educational experience.
When designing quizzes, exams, and written assignments for students, I seek to engage them in critical thinking and analysis that goes beyond mere regurgitation of “factual” matter. While I do expect them to have a familiarity with disciplinary terms, I am more interested in students demonstrating their mastery of the subject through the synthesis of material and by making connections to other disciplines and modes of thinking. To that extent, the majority of my larger assignments are open-ended in the sense that there is no “correct” answer, but rather evaluate the student’s ability to make meaning and demonstrate significant analysis that connects the course materials to current events and larger questions of equality, justice, and power. Depending on the course, this may be established through a written assignment that involves the student interviewing a subject, or a service-learning project that has students actively engaging with their community. In all cases, I encourage students to understand writing as a process, and therefore make myself available to review drafts and meet with students one-on-one to discuss their projects. I also provide extensive written feedback to students, and, when appropriate, allow them to revise their work.
In encouraging students to claim their education, I stress the relationship between knowledge and power and emphasize that they must always ask questions and seek information that will allow them to make the most informed choices for their own lives. Distinguishing between “claiming” and “receiving,” that is, the distinction between being active and being passive, is necessary in equipping students with the skills necessary to become engaged learners and global citizens. In the classroom, this demands that students and teachers take equal responsibility for the learning experience, and as a teacher, I see it as my privilege to participate in this exchange that challenges each of us to grow and learn not only as students and scholars, but also, and perhaps more importantly, as individuals.