I am incredibly grateful to the students for my third nomination for the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Outstanding Teaching. I absolutely love teaching and it is such a tremendous honor to be recognized as a semi-finalist. Please read my teaching philosophy below and click around my website to check out some of my recent research and service activities.
Teaching Philosophy: Seeking Transformation in the Classroom
“You can either be an ice queen or be loving and maternal but you can’t be both in the classroom. You have to choose.” These words were imparted to me during graduate school when I asked how to approach interacting with students as a woman. I chose to defy this advice in my role as a teacher and find, instead, a middle ground. I see teaching as blending intensely rigorous expectations with a fun and supportive environment. To this end, I utilize a mixture of active learning strategies that allow students to transform from consumers of knowledge to producers of knowledge. I try to nurture the whole person’s development, as I believe the classroom should be a space for personal growth and transformation.
On the first day of class I tell my students I have one objective for the semester: to turn them into political science beasts. This involves making the transition from passively reading texts to clawing them apart by emphasizing their shortcomings. I have students take in scholarly works and learn how to evaluate arguments, identify the implications of the material, take positions on complex scholarly debates, and draw connections among themes. To facilitate this process, I intentionally assign readings with opposing viewpoints, forcing students to take a stance. I schedule in-class debates on timely topics (i.e. gun control, felon disenfranchisement, legalization of marijuana, photo ID to vote laws) where I often assign individuals to teams where they have to argue the opposite of what they believe. In my upper level undergraduate and Master’s courses, students write a final research paper that is an original production of knowledge. Several students have submitted abstracts of these papers to international conferences and have been invited to present posters or panel sessions. Their ability to draw conclusions about the decision-making of Supreme Court Justices or the politics of people in diversifying areas, demonstrates the kind of aggressive knowledge seeking that I aim to inspire in all of my “beasts” as they transition from consumers to producers of knowledge.
Every year when I sign my contract, I take seriously the commitment to uphold the Augustinian ethos of educating one’s entire being. Through teaching we have a chance to build character. When wading into sensitive topics like affirmative action, prejudice, racism, immigration, and terrorism, I use a free online response system called Socrative, which allows students to provide their opinions anonymously and view the responses of their peers in real time. This empowers them to speak openly when we converse about these topics in greater detail. One Socrative question asked students in my Race and Politics course whether law enforcement officers are more likely to stop people of certain racial/ethnic groups or whether they stop members of all groups equally. A follow-up question asked if they ever felt they were stopped because of their race or ethnicity. One black male student voiced his experiences with racial profiling on the Main Line. His white fraternity brothers stated, “We never get stopped by the cops when we are by ourselves but it happens when ‘Brandon’ is in the car. I never believed in racial profiling until this happened repeatedly.” The room went silent. Students who were willing to deny the existence of racial profiling minutes earlier heard the alternate experiences of their peers and the conversation began to change. As they were forced to consider the others’ truths, they began to shift their way of thinking about this topic and further develop valuable character traits like compassion and generosity.
Excellence in teaching at this institution means we are called to a higher level of duty: to produce individuals who care about the world we live in and to teach them to exist more productively and fairly with the differences around them. “I am a different person today because of your American Government class. I started taking courses in Peace and Justice to understand the plight of the poor and individuals in marginalized groups. I didn’t care about those things before I took your class my freshman year.” These were the inspiring words of one of my former students. Defining classroom instruction as both nurturing and rigorous has allowed me to witness individual transformations. I am grateful for the chance to interact with students and engage with their emerging visions of our changing world.