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Teaching Philosophy

As an instructor, my goal is to teach students how to think, not what to think. My intent is not to change students’ opinions, but for them to understand opposing debates. I challenge students, develop their analytical skills, and encourage them to critically reflect on their preconceived beliefs. I also develop their ability to empathize. Students in my courses learn to generate compelling explanations from a variety of theoretical ‘lenses’ and styles of inquiry.

I also like teaching. Personally, I find a lot of meaning in assisting students through some of their struggles. College can be a tough time, and I hope I can be a positive force in some of these young adults’ lives. My approach to teaching is based on three commitments: to provide an inclusive course that offers opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds and varying levels of skill to succeed; to create an engaging course by providing variety in learning activities; and to improve my pedagogy through workshops, consultations and experimentation. 

Designing an Inclusive Course and Fostering a Sense of Belonging

Inclusivity is a core consideration for how I design my courses and address students. I structure requirements so that students are continuously evaluated throughout the term. By having students journal and take quizzes every week, I have more opportunities to identify and assist those who are struggling. I make sure to personally check in with them I see them falling behind. Furthermore, distributing grades across many tasks allows students to recover from unforeseen challenges and events. This approach is particularly helpful in first year courses such as the two international relations courses I am teaching in Fall 2017. At the beginning of the term, many students did not know what was expected of them in university. As weekly assignments create a routine, and as I only include the best nine of ten quizzes when calculating final grades, these students have been able to adjust to their new surroundings without detriment to their final grades. This has also enabled me to provide guidance to individual students with specific challenges (e.g., how to identify core arguments of readings).

I want to foster a sense of belonging, to encourage students’ own belief that they belong in the course and in higher-education and to account for imposter syndrome, especially for first-generation and underrepresented students. To foster such belonging, I ensure there is diversity in both the topics and approaches covered in the course. For example, in my international relations courses, students are expected to engage with feminist and queer theories, and across all my courses I include units on issues of justice, gender, sexuality and race. It is important to me that I do not introduce feminist, queer, and critical race scholarship as so-called “alterative perspectives” or token additions to a main event. Rather, I introduce these areas of scholarship as essential to the field. To mitigate the hostility and resistance of some students, I introduce these issues and approaches incrementally by first discussing concepts in the context of a less contested issue. For instance, when learning about environmental racism in cities, students first discuss the concept of justice within the context of intergovernmental climate change negotiations. Once students have gained an understanding of different conceptualizations of ‘fairness,’ we then apply these concepts at the local level. I convey that political science need not be not the exclusive domain of any specific group.

However, fostering a sense of belonging goes beyond the syllabus, and applies to my daily interactions with students. In the classroom, I establish an etiquette that provides rules and vocabulary to express opinions in a respectful and non-exclusionary manner. Outside the classroom, I try to convey to students that the struggles and crises they are facing are normal and part of the university experience. For example, a student recently approached me to discuss dropping out of university as she suffered from anxiety and felt overwhelmed. In addition to helping her devise strategies to tackle the workload, I reassured her that I am frequently approached by students undergoing similar experiences and that for many students this is part of the university experience. I have found that its worth my time to especially encourage veterans, non-traditional, and international students, who are usually just on the verge of excelling but need some extra assurances that they, too, belong. 

Engaging Students Through Active Learning

When I lecture, I use a variety of activities to keep students’ attention and to provide opportunities for them to engage topics in multiple ways. To reinforce important points, I typically intersperse my lectures with short videos. I also frequently use small group activities to encourage discussion and to check whether students have understood new concepts. For example, after lecturing on offensive realist theories in my international relations courses, I asked students to analyze the North Korean nuclear program crisis using this theoretical ‘lens.’ Requiring students interact with one another increases energy levels and retention of material, and is especially necessary in early morning classes. 

I also provide a variety of experiential learning activities, such as simulations. For example, when teaching theories about the role of government intervention and trade in economic development (i.e., export-led, import-substitution, and Washington consensus), I place the students into small groups and have them identify relationships across indicators for trade, social, and economic development of eight unidentified countries from 1900-2014. By having students develop their own hypotheses, then linking their findings to predominant theories, I have found that students are better able to grasp complex ideas. Another example is a simulation I have designed to teach environmental justice. First, I setup an inequity in wealth (using candy) among the students. Some begin the activity with a lot of ‘wealth,’ others with very little. Students then contribute to a collective ‘pool.’ Failure to reach a specified amount leads to penalties, success to rewards. This continues for several rounds as I deliberately change the payoff structure to hamper cooperation. After the simulation, students discuss whether the allocation rules they generated were fair, and I tie their findings to climate change negotiations. 

When appropriate, I incorporate external events and fields trips. I have received feedback from students who indicate that these activities are memorable, helpful in understanding how theoretical material applies to the ‘real world.’ For example, in my environmental politics course in Winter 2016, I partnered with a local NGO to organize a visit to an environmental justice community. As they walked across a children’s playground filled with industrial debris and fumes, students were shocked to learn that environmental inequalities existed within their own community. Additionally, in this course I provided a variety of alternative assignments, which led to many students attending their first academic symposia (e.g., the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference). I am currently organizing a field trip for my students to visit the offices of ‘Doctors Without Borders’ and the ‘United Nations Convention on Biodiversity’.

Experimenting with New Activities

I am continually seeking to improve my pedagogy. In September 2017, I was part of a panel on using simulations in the classroom at the American Political Science Association’s annual conference, and am adapting one of the proposed activities for my international relations courses. From 2015 to 2017, I also completed a certificate with a teaching engagement program. This program motivated me to use Twitter feeds in some of my classes, allowing students to share comments and questions in real-time, and providing an additional avenue for student participation. At any rate, I am flexible, care about the students, and am interested in finding ways to teach where students learn.