Teaching is an assertion of faith in the curiosity of my students and it is a commitment to the future, even if I cannot clearly see its shape. My pedagogy fosters political engagement, dialogue and conversation, and a commitment to making my classroom accessible and meaningful for all students. I have three broad aims for my courses: First, to introduce students to new ideas that challenge them to ask questions about political life; second, to help them develop skills that will be useful in both their academic and professional pursuits; and third, to engage my students’ own political agency.
I am deeply committed to teaching classes that my students will use a decade after submitting their final exam. To that end, I encourage my students to register to vote. In election years, I devote a week to analyzing their local ballots so that they have the knowledge and confidence to vote in both national and local elections, right down to the dog catcher.
In my Gentrify This! course, I introduce students to urban politics through the lens of gentrification. While gentrification is the theme, students explore critical topics in American politics, including race, gender, and democracy. The course material is divided into three sections, each designed to both introduce students to foundational texts in urban politics and to encourage critical engagement with past and current urban policy: Cities and power, cities and institutions, and race and gender. Students engage these topics with a term-long mapping project. In the Summer of 2022, I adopted The Learning Record, a portfolio-style assessment system that balances individual learning with collaborative effort. This assessment rewards creativity, experimentation, and taking risks in ways that often go underacknowledged in traditional, deliverable-focused evaluations. After piloting this program in an upper-level course, I intend to modify it to fit introductory courses.
During the 2021-2022 academic year, I taught Constitutional Law and American Political Development at Drexel University. This course uses my “yes-and” approach to classroom discussion, which brings a sense of playfulness to challenging topics. This method takes its inspiration from improvisational comedy, in which ideas are never met with a no, but a yes and then an action that builds on the previous statement. Using the “yes-and” approach, students brainstormed solutions to voter participation, debated whether Black Lives Matter will bring the same radical change as the Civil Rights Movement, and interrogated the United States Census. I use similar techniques in my Introduction to American Government and Introduction to Political Science courses.
My teaching style works best when students come prepared with questions and comments, so I encourage this by requiring reading questions that students submit before each class. This makes students accountable for the reading and helps me know any sticking points for the students when I prepare my lesson. It also provides an outlet for participation for those who are reticent to speak up in class.
Because reading political science texts requires a specific vocabulary, even students who have been successful in other classes can find themselves challenged in their first political science class. I learned this lesson one semester when I assigned a reading that I had chosen for its entertaining writing style. When I went to check submitted questions before class, the discussion board was filled with crickets because most students had chosen that week to use their one get out of questions free card. I asked the class why they had not submitted questions and the response was universal: It was too hard! This experience inspired me to provide students with reading guides. Rather than give a descriptive outline, these guides provide a roadmap of where to look for key concepts and what kinds of questions they should be asking themselves as they read. Since instituting these guides, class discussions have become more robust.
Having experienced the liberal arts at The College of Wooster, I am deeply committed to teaching the whole student. I still look fondly at my senior capstone project, which explored the contradictions of liberalism in American political life. My advisor not only steered my academic path, but also my personal one. I recall coming to his office unable to hide that I was upset. He scrapped our agenda, told me to pet his dog (named Foucault), and listened to my 20-year-old self wrestle with a relationship. I still remember the advice he gave me: With experience comes wisdom; unfortunately, you have to have the experience first. Mentorship is not just about academics, but also leaving room to check in with a students’ wellbeing.
I work to make my classes challenging but also rewarding and accessible to students of all backgrounds and abilities. To that end, I strive to make the class affordable by assigning mostly journal articles that are available through the library. I am also committed to diversity; to that end, my syllabi emphasize work by women and people from traditionally marginalized groups. I have found that providing students with assignments in which they can see themselves gives the best chance of meeting students where they are, while also encouraging them to expand their understanding of political life.