Teaching Philosophy

As a scholar-teacher, my two favorite aspects of teaching are firstly, when you see the proverbial lightbulb moment as a student makes a connection. And secondly, when they begin to be able to draw what they are learning in other courses into the one I am teaching. I am a proponent of interdisciplinary learning, and seeing the students apply what they have learned to other contexts that are either course-adjacent or outside of the class is a big pedagogical reward. I have found that creating a somewhat flexible structure within the context of the course to offer some freedom to explore has empowered my students to do just that. Flexibility can include giving students more space to drive discussions, as well as assignments. For instance, in my data visualization course, I offered students some datasets for their projects, but also let them choose a different set if a topic captured their interest. A number of students began drawing inspiration from questions they saw on TikTok or reddit for their projects. For example, a student is currently completing a visualization project that explores whether there are correlations between states that have restrictions on reproductive education/freedoms, and states that have mask mandates.

I tweak courses each term not only to ensure that the diversity of the content, but also to work in elements of current events or student majors. For example, while I have always included meaningful amounts of African American and Indigenous in my survey, I began incorporating content on political violence and protest. This content has included the readings, lecture content, and primary sources. Without prompting, students began making connections between public perceptions (British and American) of the Boston Tea Party and firebombing of Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion, and the debates over Black Lives Matter. In particular, they observed how much race colors perceptions of protest, particularly when it involves the use of force.

Since I not only teach about race and slavery, but do so at a primarily white institution, I approach my courses using trauma-informed pedagogy. This has included things like using trigger warnings, allowing impacted students to take breaks as necessary, and having conversations with my students about why it is unnecessary (and harmful) to use the n-word in class, even when the primary sources use racist language. I believe these are particularly important conversations to have as a white professor teaching Black pasts. I have found not only has this helped foster learning environments that are communal and supportive, but I am seeing higher enrollments of non-white students in my courses. Pandemic teaching has made this even more critical, as we are remote all year. I have used trauma-informed pedagogy models to design synchronous-asynchronous courses with assignments that get to the heart of what I want them to take from the course. For example, a meme assignment tasks them with researching a history meme, and then reporting whether the meme is accurate and within its correct historical context. The students enjoy this assignment, and it teaches them good digital literacy and research skills.

And finally, I am committed to anti-racist curriculum. I design courses that help students not only learn about inequity in the past, but also understand how it impacts the present. For example, in my Medicine and the African American Experience course, I teach about the connections between slavery’s commodification of human beings, experimentation (ex. Marion Simms, Henrietta Lacks, Tuskegee), and how the persistence of medical racism has contributed to health inequities.  Rather than dismissing my observations as “presentism,” the students learn that racism frequently presents itself in more subtle ways. The course is also designed to help them learn how to talk about race.