Statement of teaching philosophy
My chief teaching goal is to prepare students not only to understand the world but to act within it — to claim their own place, contribute, and affect positive change. On the first day of most of my classes, I advise students to “be mindful of the wide and wonderful world in which we live, particularly how the university education you’ve signed up for offers a microcosm of it for you to sample safely.” This is delivered in the context of my insistence that everyone respect the diversity of their fellow classmates, but it points to significant responsibilities on either side of the symbiotic relationship. For their part, students must seize the opportunities available to them in order to determine what their unique contributions might look like and how to maximize them — to “see the change they want to be.” I then must craft or even hack those opportunities into existence — managing that microcosm so that each and every student might not be mere spectators but might move from seeing their place in the world to seizing it.
My pedagogy has evolved over the course of nearly 25 years of experience in a variety of roles (associate instructor, a TA, and adjunct) at a variety of institutions (community college, private liberal-arts, major research university), during which I have fashioned an outlook on teaching based on inclusive methods and considerable social responsibility. I endeavor to foster teaching experiences that focus on three specific methods: a metacognitive approach, student-centered design, and an inclusive environment for all.
A metacognitive approach is a fancy way to say that I’m being reflexive about the learning process. My classes are designed to include consistent opportunities not only to learn the required concepts but to stop and think about the learning itself. It’s a tactic I learned through actual practice and via evidence-based training I took advantage of at UC San Diego (a 2017 certificate in Teaching & Learning at the College Level). For example, the Muir College Writing Program, where I’ve taught academic argumentation, features several built-in exercises that encourage reflexive thinking. After each writing assignment, students complete a short worksheet, in which they reflect on and express what worked or fell short about the freshly completed assignment, what challenged them the most, and what they’ll do differently next time. The resulting document is mildly useful to me — providing a between-the-lines reading of student performance, as well as a good way for me to catch any discrepancies between my own evaluations and how they think they’re doing — but massively useful to them in terms of concretizing thinking and cementing conscious awareness of skill levels and course objectives. Reflections like this also have proven to be valuable punctuations in the course schedule, offering closure to assignments that feels more self-satisfying than merely awaiting the external pronouncement of my grade. It’s been a crucial extra layer to the classroom experience that I’ve incorporated into other courses in different ways, including what I call shorter “Stop, Reflect, & Write” breaks in my Communication courses and the Media Watch assignment I’ve added to my argumentative-writing courses (in which students take the same tools they apply to the dissection of academic texts and transpose them to arguments they locate within news media).
This is related to another focus of mine: student-centered teaching. In the superlative How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, the authors observe that “if [students’] initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts” and simply focus on the final exam or project, returning to their preconceptions after the class is finished. One method I’ve found useful in addressing, integrating, and challenging such preconceptions is to structure classes and learning modules to allow students early control and consistent responsibility for outcomes — their own and those of others — whenever this is feasible for the type of class. This means a lot of student-led presentations and discussions, peer-review work, even some say or flexibility in overall course design. (I’ve even taken a few cues from a philosopher central to my own media-studies research, Vilém Flusser, whose rascally Socratic dialogues expound about the differences between discursive and dialogic social experiences, and how to design more for the latter.) One simple exercise that’s proven useful in a variety of course contexts is what I call the Q&A of the Day: students are assigned one day during the term in which they must initiate class discussion by posing a single question related to the day’s topics and proffering their own argumentative answer. Also, the first time I taught my self-designed course about protest music in America some students expressed interest in writing their own song as a focus for their final paper; I altered the assignment to assist them and others to do so, and I now feature this “creative” option each time I teach the course (and others), as it’s become a rich way to seal the learning by integrating discourse with practice. Student-led instruction must be stringently and subtly monitored (and I’m not claiming to have mastered it thus far), but its rewards can be superlative.
These drivers of my teaching — reflexivity, responsibility, and the inclusive strategies as detailed in my statement of commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion — fuel my own efforts to contribute to society by leading and guiding students to go forth into it and actively engage. Buoyed by privileged secondary and undergraduate classroom experiences, I pursued a journalism career after being inspired by a maxim from Hunter S. Thompson: “That’s the main thing about journalism: it allows you to keep learning and get paid for it.” Steering that career into features journalism and arts criticism, I reveled in popular culture’s highly accessible opportunities to initiate public dialogues about social discourses — dialogues often richer than those sparked in the news columns. When teaching communication and media, I find similar common ground on which to engage dialogue, particularly once students realize how much they already know about communicating and using media. Once they recognize that they already have a considerable stake in the world around them, as well as formidable skills in navigating it that are surfaced through the coursework, their view of that world tends to open — as does a desire to write their own name onto it.