I have several years of teaching experience assisting with and instructing numerous sociology courses at a variety of institutions. In 2016, I was honored to receive an Outstanding Teaching award from Syracuse University, presented to graduate students “who have made distinguished contributions to the college by demonstrating excellence in significant instructional capacities.” As a first-generation college graduate, I am passionate not only about teaching, but mentoring undergraduate students, especially those who come from marginalized backgrounds. Reflecting on my own academic journey, I recall specific professors who challenged me, encouraged me, and set the example of what a mentor is. Today, I pay it forward by providing my students with the knowledge, tools, direction, and support they need to achieve their career goals and aspirations.
My primary tasks for each course I instruct are to educate students in sociology’s core concepts and perspectives, teach the logic and application of sociological research and analysis, strengthen students’ ability to effectively communicate ideas and findings to a wide audience, and apply these skills in their careers and everyday lives. Put simply, my job is to assist students in acquiring new tools with which to evaluate the social world. I place strong emphasis on the everyday applications of sociology and train students to critically question the links between the personal (micro) and the public (macro). As C. Wright Mills (1959) famously writes, “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That is its task and its promise.” My lectures, readings, assignments, and classroom activities are designed to help fulfill this promise and guid students in the progressive development of their own sociological “lens.” Hopefully, they will continue to cultivate and rely upon it for the rest of their lives.
To educate students in sociology’s core concepts and perspectives, my lectures are vitally grounded in course readings. By closely linking lectures and readings, students learn to syphon out the main points and ideas from academic writing. I strive to make classroom lectures more interactive by intermittently posing open-ended questions, showing video clips, or pausing for brief “thinking exercises.” For example, Syracuse University Undergraduate Student Dia Matthews writes of my Social Problems course: “Another great aspect was her effective facilitating. She made sure the discussions in class were always relevant and in gear with the readings and lectures… I always felt that the instruction was clear and that the tone of the class stayed pertinent and well-structured—a quality I happened to love in comparison to some professors.” Engaging students during my lectures, while keeping them on topic, maintains a fresh learning environment, encourages participation, and importantly, allows me to gauge their depth of understanding. A learner-centered environment is of the utmost importance to me. As brilliant as a professor may be, barreling onward through course material is futile if you abandon many students in the wake.
Teaching students the logic and application of sociological research and analysis involves work both inside and out of the classroom. I accomplish this by designing a series of activities for them to engage with throughout the semester. This challenges students to not merely thinking about, but actively “do” sociology. Often, implementation of these exercises works best in small groups. For example, when teaching about economic inequality, I have grouped students into small teams to first conduct their own research on specific topics (welfare reform, minimum wage vs. a living wage, income taxation, etc..), then facilitate a series of debates and debriefings. Many students have commented that these kinds of interactive approaches to learning has empowered them to speak more confidently and openly about sociological topics in other courses, with friends/on social media, or even at the family dinner table.
I typically assign students a series of take-home assignments throughout the semester as well, such as critical essays and a final research paper. These types of projects challenge each to conduct a deeper analysis individually, constructively working out their own understandings of sociological topics through writing. Student Lilly Brown discusses in her recommendation letter how these critical essay prompts “reflect the course material very well, and add a personal aspect to the issues [such as class, race, and gender]. The fact that I could examine my own experiences and compare them to what we learned in class made me look forward to writing these essays.”
It’s important to note that as students’ eyes adjust to their new sociological lens, they tend to experience personal “revelations” or “growing pains.” In these moments, students’ inner struggle and discomfort presents challenges for me as an instructor. However, I have learned to welcome these moments as a sign of transformation, signifying a turning point for students. For example, student Autum Blood, writes: “She challenges her students to be open minded and see matters she is teaching with a broader scope. I found this very difficult because of some of my own beliefs and experiences she often tested. For example, she had us write on many subjects, but the one that most challenged me was on White Privilege. I had to step outside of my comforts and even some stereotypes and write from an entirely foreign prospective. Ultimately this allowed me an opportunity to grow personally.”Autum’s comment exemplify a reoccurring pattern in my courses; that the very students who may appear to resist or give a bit of push-back during sensitive/difficult topics have the potential to grow the most, both academically and personally.
My ultimate objective as a sociology instructor is to convince students to hold on to their sociological imagination once they exit my classroom for the last time. One of the most satisfying rewards is when students come to realize the long-term benefits that thinking sociologically can offer in their careers and personal lives. By balancing the intellectual, experiential, and interactive approaches of learning sociology, students in my classroom are provided the opportunity to engage in an immersive academic experience of learning, which they often enjoy. I hope that my passion for, and desire to share, both foundational and new sociological insights about social inequality ignites students’ own enthusiasm for the discipline.