Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is rooted in the radical notion 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, and a strong desire for personal growth. For the sociology student, the source of this value is well-defined: a developed sociological imagination allows the individual to conceptualize events and situations as the product of past events and personal dispositions and how they interact with the overarching social structure. In turn, training in sociology helps the individual to better observe herself as an integrated part of social networks with powerful productive capacities, including the potential to understand – and perhaps improve – her own life circumstances and those 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., the intuition underlying a regression model) and I gently guide them towards a certain destination (e.g., a basic understanding of the corresponding formula) 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 generally 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 should generally be able to withstand significant scrutiny.[2] I do not, however, expect the initial ideas of my students to rise to the same standard. 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 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 my lessons outside of the classroom. I have served as instructor for two courses at Cornell and I have been a teaching assistant for four different courses over nine semesters between 2014 and 2018. Several of these appointments have been optional, as I have actively sought opportunities to expand my teaching horizons. Student evaluations of my teaching quality clearly reflect my ability to 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).

[2] I say that the professional scholarship we cover should generally be able to withstand strong criticism because I will sometimes assign older articles or book chapters that subsequently have been debunked or refined in order to present an academic discourse.