Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is rooted in the idea that education should be viewed primarily as a tool for self-actualization. This means that, in my view, meaningful educational investments are pragmatic and encourage a bolstered sense of purpose, increased motivation, acceptance of self and others, enhanced critical thinking skills, and the desire for personal growth. For the sociology student, the source of this value is well-defined: a developed sociological imagination allows individuals to conceptualize events and situations as the product of past events and personal dispositions and how these interact with the overarching social structure. In turn, training in sociology helps students to appreciate themselves as integrated parts of social networks with powerful productive capacities that can enhance their lives and the lives of others.

As an educator, it is my responsibility to have a firm mastery of the subjects that I teach and an effective strategy for communicating key concepts and ideas. I believe that one useful tool for addressing this latter obligation is to approach the classroom as a team leader focused on achieving collective learning outcomes. With this in mind, I tend to strip the classroom of the traditional distinction between teacher and student.[1] While I am a capable lecturer, I prefer to engage in the practice of guided drift: I use the classroom as a space for my students to discuss ideas (e.g., racial wealth gaps) and I gently guide them towards a certain destination (e.g., the consequences of racial wealth gaps) by interjecting with probing questions and comments when necessary. Using this strategy, I was awarded the Cornell Sociology Citation for Teaching Excellence for the 2015-2016 school year and I earned an honorable mention for 2017-2018.

My minimalist approach to teaching encourages students to prepare themselves for class meetings but runs the risk of intimidating some students. To ease the anxieties that might accompany the uncertainty around discussing unfamiliar concepts and ideas in a collective setting, I maintain a simple rule in my classrooms: my ideas and those of the scholars whose work we cover are the only ideas that should be intensely scrutinized from the outset. I do not, however, expect my students’ ideas to rise to the same standard until they have had the opportunity to thoroughly engage with and review relevant course materials. This means that we use the classroom as a space to collectively develop ideas without the fear of saying something that is wrong or misguided. Instead, we constantly strive to improve ourselves from where we stand.

Teaching is the professional activity that I find most empowering. I feel this way because I have consistently watched my students apply lessons I have taught them inside and outside of the classroom, often leading to their desired post-graduation job or graduate school placements and professional and volunteer work promoting the social good. Evaluations of my teaching ability suggest that I have a positive impact on most of my students. That being said, my love of teaching encourages me to continuously strive for improvement. In my mind, achieving teaching excellence is a lifelong pursuit. I plan to chase this goal for a very long time.

[1] This softening of the distinction between teacher and student is a pedagogical strategy that I limit to classroom space. I take seriously my responsibilities as an educator outside of the classroom (e.g., designing course materials).