The core approach of my teaching centers on ensuring understanding rather than simply communicating knowledge. My main hope for a student by the end of semester is not that they have managed to memorize a series of key terms and facts but rather that they are now more capable of comprehending and discussing the political and economic world around them. The development of this understanding is the primary reason I teach. I draw the greatest satisfaction from those unique moments throughout a semester when an idea forces a student to stop, reconsider, and adapt their perceptions to a different understanding. Particularly in comparative politics, I find that contrasting other forms of government and bureaucracy with the American system encourages undergraduates to expand and reconsider their own expectations of the institutions around them. Nonetheless, it is quite difficult to judge when a student has truly grasped the concepts I am trying to relay. While admittedly constrained, I find that focused discussion is the best method of analyzing whether or not students are capable of applying the basic theory I hope to convey. I am more assured by a student who can communicate a core argument supported by evidence than another who excels at multiple-choice tests. Furthermore, I find the ability of students to discuss and debate their own views and perceptions among themselves much more important than their ability to provide strong answers to my own questions. I firmly believe in learning by doing and, as a teacher of democratic politics, I understand the immense value of reasoned, educated debate. If students take nothing else from my class other than an improved capacity and willingness to discuss important issues with their peers, then I have accomplished something meaningful.
As teacher who understands the inevitability of larger classes where discussions are unmanageable, I recognize the necessity of exams. However, stemming from my desire to know whether understanding is being developed or not, for both my large and small classes I dedicate a significant portion of classwork to other modes of discussion, such as research papers, that are gradable on a large scale but also require a student to think critically and engage in a simulated discussion, even if it is just with the reader. To enhance this process, I have instituted a peer review system which requires students to exchange papers with fellow students and give feedback, then discuss in their final paper what changes they made and why. I have found this useful in stimulating critical reflection when the small discussions are impractical and in gaining the experience of receiving constructive criticism from their peers.
The most challenging hurdle I have faced as a teacher is communicating ideas and fostering discussion comprehensively. I do not consider a semester a success if I merely encouraged the most engaged students to simply talk more. I focus my efforts on drawing the quieter, less-sure students into the discussion. Therefore, I strive to maintain an open, positive environment. I’ve found that by suppressing my own views and discouraging any one perspective to dominate the discussion, students of more diverse opinions are more likely to participate. Following the presentation of one view I press the rest of the class to provide their own opinion. To avoid isolating less-informed students, I try to ground concepts by tying them to everyday examples that still convey the broader theory. Presenting the analogy of students themselves as political actors in their engagement with one another and society, and encouraging them to analyze that interaction in light of a concept has been a very effective method for me. Finally, I believe in adapting my teaching style and philosophy not only throughout my career, but more importantly throughout each semester. Each new group of students arrive with a unique experience and therefore one method of teaching is likely to be more effective than another. I certainly don’t adapt perfectly to each cohort, but I do make an effort to adjust lesson plans and methods periodically during a semester. Today’s students are more than willing to communicate a lack of interest, to which I am willing to respond with a change in my own style. In particular, I have found that presenting multimedia such as video clips from documentaries and news stories alongside my lecture can be an effective method of both keeping their attention and communicating complex concepts in a more understandable fashion. This dynamic process both encourages me to remain adaptable and draws in students, if for no other reason than it differs from their typical classroom experience.
Comparative Politics, Gender and Politics, South Asian Politics, Comparative Institutions, American Government, and National Security.