Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. - Parker J. Palmer
I am passionate about teaching. I enjoy working with students inside and outside of the classroom. I am deeply invested in becoming an excellent teacher. I bring with me experience as an adjunct instructor at the undergraduate and post-graduate level, along with six years of experience as the senior minister of a church, where a sizable portion of my time was devoted to adult education. In this short statement, I will summarize my teaching philosophy and provide several concrete examples of how I have sought (and will seek) to implement this approach in the classroom. I have posted syllabi and evaluations from courses I have taught.
I see my role as a teacher to guide students to critically engage and creatively implement the theory, methods, and conclusions of social-scientific research. This is a challenging process. Viewing the world from a sociological perspective does not come naturally. I have found that students struggle to make this shift. I generally follow a method of instruction that focuses first on developing the necessary lower-level knowledge but quickly moves to helping students require the higher-level skills of analysis, synthesis and application to new situations.
Development of higher-level skills, which is the goal of effective teaching, requires a solid grasp of the material. In my teaching, I structure courses to motivate students to complete the assigned readings and to ensure they glean the key points from them. I have used a variety of techniques in this regard---from regular short answer tests and multiple choice quizzes that test for reading comprehension to reading journals which document their learnings. To develop this basic knowledge, I tend to avoid introductory textbooks. I find books like Joel Best's Damned Lies and Statistics and George Ritzer's McDonaldization series engage student interest while also introducing key sociological concepts. Too often, textbooks focus on rote learning and discourage even lower-level learning.
In introductory courses, I move students into evaluative, synthetic, higher-order thinking as quickly as possible. One effective tool I have used to encourage this is a problem-based approach to learning. Consider an introductory course in statistics. I envision presenting a key question - say, why do men earn more than women? We start by generating some ideas about why this is the case. And then the lectures and assignments unfold in such a way that students can see the connections between the statistical techniques we are learning and a real-world puzzle we are trying to solve. My goal by the end of the course is to help students appreciate the complex nature of social problems and see the challenges that exist in making generalizations and causal claims.
In courses with a stronger substantive focus my aim is to develop in students the ability to synthesize concepts and apply them to new questions. Here, I think a problem-based approach is extremely effective. Another important aspect of this process is helping students build interconnections between the material they are studying and other disciplines. My own intellectual journey has ranged over the applied sciences, theology, religious studies, African American studies, and sociology. Disciplinary specialization is important, but the world is not an isolated set of independent systems. I plan to include readings and alternate perspectives from other disciplines into my sociology courses.
Finally, I enjoy helping students communicate their ideas effectively in a variety of formats. Good thinking is of little use unless it is communicated well. Students need to develop the skills required to present ideas to specialists and non-specialists alike. I intend to incorporate into all of my classes some basic ideas about how to effectively communicate ideas using written, oral and visual media. Computer technology has only increased the need for this sort of training. I aim to foster creativity and imagination in presentation. In previous courses I have had students compose op-eds for newspapers, write articles suitable for publication in a magazine, and make documentary videos that communicate core concepts.
I am a sociologist because I think the discipline is relevant to the questions and challenges human societies face. As a teacher, I strive to convince students that I am right! For me teaching is not an inconvenience that distracts from research time. Teaching is a central aspect of research. I have spent the majority of my life as either a student or a teacher. I look forward to continuing to develop in both of these roles as a member of the faculty.