Statement of teaching philosophy
The study of history should create informed and responsible global citizens. My teaching methods are thus oriented towards two metagoals for my students. I want students to be able to: (1) identify and discuss the relevant historical context of complex current issues; and (2) be able to analyze primary sources, synthesize secondary sources, and write history. I want them to understand the relevance of history and be able to “do” history, both of which are skills necessary for individuals to better navigate the increasingly globalized information age. To reach these goals in both entry level surveys and upper-level courses, I believe teachers must carefully balance the teaching of content with the teaching of critical thinking skills, maintain a commitment to responsibly using methodological innovation and technology, and foster a student-centered democratic classroom environment.
I try to make history relevant to students in a number of ways. I use current events and debates to inform my lectures and frame class discussions, and I invite students to think about the broader lessons we can learn from the past. In order to balance the teaching of content with the teaching of critical thinking skills, I organize my classes around central themes and questions. This creates a consistent and dependable framework for analysis with which students can practice analyzing historical events and sources throughout the course. For example, I organize my modern American history survey (since 1865) around the themes of freedom and citizenship, which helps to both provide a relevant context for current political, economic, and social issues and narrow the content to avoid overloading students with excessive material, all while stimulating critical thinking. My lectures are highly interactive and are organized around a clear thesis—which I explain at the beginning of each lecture—that ties into broader course themes. I also use regular, more sustained discussions as a class and in small groups, typically involving primary sources, to help students see the interconnectedness of historical events and practice critical thinking. This ensures that students can always answer the question of why we are going over a particular topic, and they can more fruitfully analyze each historical fact we cover. I also like to use assessments similar to the Document-Based Questions utilized by Advanced Placement exams, which assesses both content knowledge and critical thinking.
Building a democratic classroom environment can promote more active student learning and foster critical thinking skills. This means acknowledging that learning is a social process that should involve the entire class, not just the teacher. I utilize class debates, small group discussion exercises, and unguided class discussions in order to remove myself from the center of conversation and prompt the students to take charge of the class. Building a democratic classroom also means creating a climate of mutual respect in which everyone feels that they have a stake in the learning process. It takes experience and constant adjustment, and it begins with a good rapport between the teacher and the students. Teachers should cultivate relationships with students based on trust and accountability. They should trust that students want to learn and will give their best effort, and students need to be able to trust that the teacher is doing his or her best to help students learn. This both keeps the professor from entirely blaming the students when the class does not understand a concept, and it creates an atmosphere in which rigor is both expected and appreciated.
My classroom teaching strategies are a careful balance of innovation and time-tested techniques. Lectures, discussions, and the Socratic method still have value, and I use them regularly in my classes. However, I feel the best way to engage students is to get them to experience history. This could mean visiting museums, buildings, forests, battlefields, cemeteries, and other historical landscapes in order to connect the past to a sense of place. It could mean talking to experts, including both those who study the past and those who lived it. It could also mean building relationships with the broader community to connect students to projects that generate public interest and have use in the real world. Students can also experience history without leaving the classroom. I have helped teach two Reacting to the Past games, which has proven to me that role-playing games can engage students. They are both entertaining and rigorous, requiring in-depth knowledge of a particular subject and encouraging the development of critical thinking. I have taught with technological applications like Kahoot and Pear Deck, which increases student participation in discussion. I like using online learning platforms like eLearning Commons and Blackboard because they promote greater communication between teachers and students; their online discussion forums can extend classroom discussions outside of class; and they can be an effective vehicle for providing additional readings, handouts, and detailed instructions on assignments.
Technology can facilitate student-centered learning, but only if it used with some caution. On a fundamental level, I feel like the best way for students to experience history is to actually “do” history, to dig in the archives, uncover historical artifacts, and tell a story about the past. Technology can help them do this. Digitized primary source databases has greatly enhanced the ability of students to do history, and I use many of them regularly in assignments. Blogs, podcasts, and documentaries allow students to apply their historical knowledge and make creative choices about what they will learn. In putting their conclusions into one of these technological media that can be consumed by the digital public, students can also help history departments connect to the broader community. However, in order to avoid the trap of using innovation for innovation’s sake and technology for technology’s sake, I evaluate them carefully according to their ability to help reach my learning objectives, and I am careful not to sacrifice rigor and accountability for the sake of entertaining students. I believe that the research paper is still the most effective way of teaching students how to analyze primary sources and convey their ideas. In entry level classes, I use assignments scaffolded over the course of a semester to help students learn how to analyze historical sources before requiring them to write history. In upper-level classes, I prefer using drafts, feedback, and revisions to improve students’ analysis and writing.
In terms of reading assignments, I think that it is important for students to read both primary sources and secondary sources. For weekly readings, I assign textbooks that provide concise introductions to classroom lessons. To that end, I prefer textbooks that focus on general themes and narratives and do not overload students with heavy content. I also assign weekly readings from a reader of primary sources that directly relate to the central themes of the class. I also assign from two to five books, depending on the level of the class, that include both primary sources—oral histories, memoirs, etc.—and secondary sources. For general education classes, I prefer to assign secondary sources that are approachable by the reading public. Generally, the higher the level of the class the more I assign secondary sources written primarily for scholars.
As one final point, being an effective teacher, above all else, takes experience and continued humility and self-reflection. Learning from past mistakes and successes is absolutely necessary, as teaching involves doing a million little things right but often not knowing what those things are until you gain the benefit of hindsight. Good teaching also means adjusting your course design and delivery according to the proficiency and personality of each class. Discussions, readings, and assignments can always be aligned better. Lectures can always be tweaked. Concepts can always be more clearly explained and framed. Learning more about the subject itself can reveal new connections and new ways of conceptualizing the material that helps me explain the subject matter to classes with varying dynamics. Good teaching does not always look the same for each teacher, but it does mean being a dedicated and lifelong student.
August 2017-Present – Lecturer, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
- Research and Writing in History
- American History Since 1865
- Appalachian History
2015 – Instructor, University of Georgia
- American History Since 186
College-Level Teaching Assistant
2012-2017 – University of Georgia
- American History to 1865 and American History since 1865
2010-2012 – Teaching Assistant, Western Carolina University
- U.S. History to 1865 and U.S. History since 1865
- March-June, 2017 – Teacher, Buncombe County Early College
- 2005-2010 – Teacher, Murphy High School, Murphy, North Carolina - Obtained Standard Professional II license in 2009 (current); Social Studies Department Head (January 2008-June 2010)