I believe in education and what it offers students and society. Education, when at its best, has the potential to develop thinking skills, offer a forum for a thoughtful exchange of ideas, empower, provide meaningful life and job skills that benefit young people and the places where they live for decades to come, and provide exposure to and celebrate difference. I love that I am part of the process of fully realizing the potential of higher education.
The heart and lifeblood of college education exists in and flows through the classroom. I believe that a teacher should build the college classroom around four overarching aims. First, it is essential to create a welcoming environment filled with mutual respect, friendliness, understanding, fairness, and acceptance of other lifestyles and perspectives. This fosters a setting where ideas can be exchanged and relationships can be cultivated. Second, it is important to use a variety of instructional techniques so that students can relate to the material, be energized by it, and take command of their own learning. Third, teachers should present material in a way that builds upon the different levels of thinking. This way students can effectively climb the ladder of thinking from remembering and understanding to analyzing and creating in order to successfully obtain critical thinking skills. Lastly, classroom material should provide students with tangible skills and knowledge that prepare them for life after college since many of our students expect that we will enhance their chances in an increasingly competitive occupational world.
Since I believe that great teaching and learning begins with a welcoming and supportive environment, I make sure to treat my students with respect, fairness, and understanding in my interactions with them and I demand that they do the same with each other. They do not have to like each other, but they must treat each other with dignity. For instance, I make an effort to learn all of my students’ names and ask them about their own lives, during class discussions I ask that we all listen to each other’s point of view and then use logic and reasoning to disagree if we feel the need, and I present material from various perspectives to be inclusive of a variety of worldviews.
Pedagogically, presenting challenging material in a relatable manner that develops critical thinking and provides meaningful skills for students’ futures is essential to my classroom. A lesson that spans several meeting times in my criminology course illustrates these aims. The class is assigned Dreamland by Sam Quinones that describes the legal and illegal factors related to the rise of black tar heroin and the liberal use of prescription drugs which caused the outbreak of America’s current opioid epidemic. After completion of the reading, I present material on rates of drug use in America, drug laws, drugs and the criminal justice system, and the key arguments of Dreamland. Following this presentation, students are divided into small groups of their choosing where they discuss and answer a set of questions designed to promote critical thinking. Each small group then uses poster paper and markers to diagram the many social, historical, legal, and illegal factors that contributed to America’s opioid crisis. Each group hangs their diagram around the room and takes turns explaining to the rest of the class their view on the primary causes of the epidemic along with potential solutions. The lesson ends with a whole-class discussion. I utilize lessons like these because they make the material memorable, force students to problem solve difficult circumstances, and provide real-world skills like group collaboration and presentation proficiency. They also make teaching and learning fun.
In addition to lessons like this, I make sure to include activities that encourage students to think by utilizing new media, popular culture television, and film that students can identify with and that are ripe for sociological analysis. I also employ distance learning even in my face-to-face classes that provide a change of pace and are helpful for students who learn best within such a format. Evidence suggests that my students appreciate my teaching style and effectiveness as I consistently receive excellent student evaluations and my courses consistently have waitlists at the beginning of the semester.
I received my bachelor’s degree in education from Miami University and spent seven years teaching adolescents at Norwood Middle School in an impoverished area of Cincinnati. This was an eye opening experience that informs much of my teaching and research today and compelled me to attend graduate school so that I could better understand and research much of what I observed. While at UVA as a graduate student and then at the College of Charleston and Tulane University as a visiting assistant professor I have instructed graduate and undergraduate students in a variety of courses, including online classes.
I have taught introductory statistics and research methods to undergrads and advanced statistics to graduate students. I particularly enjoy teaching research methods and statistics because of the concrete skills that I can pass along. Such skills can improve students’ ability to think and do research but they also provide tangible skills for the labor market. Methods and statistics courses also allow students to practice logic, problem solving, and perseverance in a way that other courses do not. I also take pleasure in convincing students that designing research projects, applying statistical techniques, and analyzing data is an exciting and fulfilling process.
In addition to statistics and methods, I teach courses in my areas of interest and expertise. I teach classes on criminology, juvenile delinquency, and deviance. These courses are exciting because they allow students to explore the manipulation of laws by the powerful and the social construction of “right” and “wrong” while grappling with issues of social cohesion and order. I also teach classes on education and the schooling process. In these courses I encourage my students to reconsider what they know and what they think they know about school and its role in society. In addition to teaching courses on criminology and education, I teach courses on politics as well as inequality. This is not an exhaustive list of my classroom experience, but it summarizes my primary teaching interests.