My teaching philosophy is grounded in the principles of engaged and active learning. Given that sociology is the study of social groups, I believe that interactive learning embodies the heart of the discipline. This is both a challenge, particularly for large classrooms, and an exciting opportunity to listen to and learn from each other. My lectures, readings, assignments, classroom activities, and evaluation tools are designed to guide students in the progressive development of their sociological imagination, which they will hopefully continue to cultivate and refine for the rest of their lives. I believe that the key to student learning is presenting the same concept or idea using a variety of approaches. This is because learning is not a one-and-done process. Lower-level (passive) approaches include telling, showing, and using illustrative examples, while higher-level (active) approaches include analysis, application, and discussion. In my courses, I make use of both approaches in order to consciously construct a pathway that takes students from lower-level to higher-level understanding.
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.” This Fall 2018 semester at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania I am teaching three sections of Principles of Sociology (eighty students each) and one section of Contemporary Social Problems (seventy students). Principles of Sociology is an introductory-level course that fulfills a general education requirement for a wide variety of majors. My main learning outcomes in this course are for students to accurately understand and apply sociological concepts and theories while examining a series of topics highly relevant to today’s world, including culture, sexuality, gender, deviance, social class, race and ethnicity. While lecture is the primary teaching format, specific class sessions are designed to interactively facilitate learning through question and answer, videos, group discussion, and classroom exercises. I assess student learning primarily through quiz and exam performance, breakout session assignments and reading comprehension.
Principles of Sociology is a prerequisite for the second course I teach at Kutztown. Contemporary Social Problems is a course designed to guide students in acquiring sociological tools used to critically evaluate the social world. I place a strong emphasis on developing students’ sociological “lens” or sociological imagination. This means challenging students to systematically question the links between their micro observations and experiences and the macro sociostructural forces that undergird society. As C. Wright Mills (1959) famously writes in “The Promise,” “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 by guiding students in the progressive development of their own sociological imagination.
As students adjust to their new sociological lens they often experience a series of personal revelations, and at times, intellectual growing pains. In these uncomfortable moments, a student’s inner struggle or discomfort can manifest itself in the classroom and present challenges for me as an instructor. However, I have learned to welcome moments of discomfort as opportunities for growth and a potential turning point for students. For example, in her recommendation letter, Social Problems 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 perspective. Ultimately this allowed me an opportunity to grow personally.” Autum’s comments exemplify a reoccurring pattern in my courses — that the very students who appear to resist and push back the most also have a powerful potential for growth, both academically and personally.
As a young instructor, I also continue to experience my own growing pains while navigating various obstacles and challenges each semester. Learning how to approach teaching tech-savvy Generation Z students, convincing them to read academic literature, keeping and holding their attention, getting large sections of students actively engaged in sociology early in the morning, and reaching those from diverse majors, political standpoints, and social locations are just a few examples. To navigate these challenges, I often turn to the copious volume of teaching advice and literature available in academic journals, books, and online sources to find applicable solutions. For example, this year I have relied on Teaching First-Year College Students by Erickson, Peters, and Strommer. Checking in with students regularly to gather feedback provides them the opportunity to voice concerns and permits me to adjust the rudder of the course, if necessary, to improve student learning outcomes. In addition, having a network of trusted colleagues from a variety of disciplines who I can converse with about teaching and mentoring is an invaluable resource.
In closing, 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 begin to recognize the long-term benefits of thinking sociologically. I believe that my courses provide students the opportunity to engage in an immersive academic experience of “doing” sociology, something that they will (hopefully) enjoy! My commitment to teaching is rooted in my passion for learning. Whether the topic is on the foundational principles of sociology or the latest emergent research and ideas, I truly love sharing sociology with students. I encourage you to view my online Teaching Portfolio, including the section titled “Evidence of Teaching Effectiveness.” Here you will find my quantitative summary table of student reviews from Syracuse University, which were consistently above the department’s average. You can also view the original evaluations along with qualitative comments, as well as student and faculty recommendation letters and reviews. However, this site has not yet been updated with my current course content from Kutztown University. Upon request, I am happy to provide more materials on my current courses, including syllabi, lecture materials, and classroom activities.