I see my role as a teacher in drawing out and making explicit the political ideas students bring to the classroom. I then lead them to critically assess the assumptions and understandings they acquired during the many years of political socialization up to college age. My classes therefore emphasize participation, self-reflection and critical engagement with other people’s ideas.
On the first day of class, my goal is to make the core questions of the courses I teach relevant to students’ personal and political lives. In teaching “Ancient Political Thought“, I usually begin by asking the students to answer by a show of hands: “How many of you live in a just society?” I would then call on students to justify their vote, explaining what type of evidence they use to decide whether their society is just. These questions typically elicit wide participation and give the class materials for a twenty minute conversation exploring how we reach conclusions about justice. Because students are forced to examine their beliefs about themselves and their political societies, they turn their critical attention inward from the beginning of the class. My goal throughout the course, starting with the first moment of class, is to help these young people become insightful contributors to these ongoing normative conversations rather than historians of the distant past.
I have had the privilege of teaching at three institutions with a diverse student body: UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. My classes have always included international students with experience of different political systems, as well as American students with very different experiences of living under the same political institutions. I strive to design courses that allow students to take advantage of their different perspectives. One of the courses I am teaching this semester, “Capstone in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics”, has students from more than 10 departments reading texts in contemporary political philosophy and political economy. With my weekly assistance, the students develop a research paper on a topic of personal and academic interest and present the arguments to their peers. I have found that offering students the opportunity to serve as relative experts illustrates the great strength of a diverse classroom to all participants. In the past, my students have written research papers on topics such as the distribution of public education resources, immigration policy, racial injustice in housing markets, drug laws, and justice in the workplace. One of these recent papers has been selected for presentation at MPSA.
Given my research focus and my experience, I would be able to offer both introductory-level courses in the history of political thought and more advanced graduate seminars. For introductory courses, I would draw on my extensive training in political science and political economy to engage not only students who would specialize in political theory or philosophy, but also students interested in comparative politics, economics and other social sciences. For more advanced undergraduates, I would offer smaller seminars focusing on specific historical periods, such as ancient Greek and/or Roman political thought, social contract theory, French political thought and 20th century thought. For graduate teaching and mentoring, I would develop in-depth seminars on specific thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau or Adam Smith.
I have constantly sought out ways to improve my teaching. I have guest-lectured in both Political Science and Philosophy, shadowed a professor at Meredith College, undertaken training in pedagogy through the Certificate in College Teaching and visited a range of different teaching institutions through the Preparing Future Faculty Program, including community colleges, small liberal arts colleges and large public universities. By engaging fellow graduate students and faculty members from a variety of institutions and disciplines in conversations about pedagogy, I have come to appreciate the effectiveness of different tools in reaching diverse learners. For example, my introductory classes now often include short lectures that model critical thinking about a particular argument or normative perspective followed by small group exercises applying the concepts discussed or evaluating a particular argument.
I am constantly watching other teachers, comparing notes and improving my methods. In doing so, I have learned to include diverse communication methods. My classes include pre-discussion writing exercises that allow students to gather their thoughts before sharing with the group, small group exercises that can make shyer students more comfortable, as well as an online forum where students are asked to make weekly written contributions.
During 2015-2016, I have also been involved in teaching a Bass Connections civic engagement class for Duke undergraduate students called “The Citizenship Lab: Civic Participation of Refugee Youth in Durham”. I worked with 7 Duke undergraduate students and two faculty members in Sociology to develop civic and community building skills in 20 young refugees aged 13 through 19 recently relocated to North Carolina. I used my knowledge of Durham local politics to engage this group in multiple types of activities, everything from casting youth ballots in the Durham local elections to meeting with one of the councilmen. Because some of our students struggled with basic literacy, we turned from text to photography to help them communicate their experiences. Helping these young people communicate through photographs what a community is and can be for them has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career so far.