I believe that teaching should be more than the simple recitation of facts. Instruction in the liberal arts must encourage students to think about the world in new ways; it must expand their world-views and encourage critical thinking skills. Liberal arts education enables students to examine ideas and values critically while promoting knowledge of and empathy for difference. The goal of all liberal education should be to create an informed and engaged citizenry. I think that interdisciplinarity is fundamental to this. In order for students to transfer the skills and knowledge that they obtain at university outside of the classroom, it is important that they are able to see connections across disciplines. The creation and passing on of knowledge must not be an isolating experience but should connect students from different backgrounds.
The guiding philosophy of my teaching is that educators ought to empower students and provide them with the necessary tools to assume responsibility for their learning. This is best facilitated in an environment in which students are free to engage critically with the material and openly discuss it. In my classroom, students are encouraged to take an active role through class discussion and presentations. I believe that it is crucial for student success, both during and after university, that they are able to effectively analyze texts, synthesize material, and communicate their ideas effectively to their peers. My role is that of a guide: conducting students through the material and demonstrating critical thinking skills. I alternate lectures, student-driven class discussions, and presentations to create a learning environment where individuals can share their ideas safely and comfortably, develop excellent writing skills, and practice critical thinking. I organize my lectures around a question or a concept, not a topic. I encourage students to locate responses and possibilities rather than straightforward answers.
It is important for students to connect to the voices of the past in order to foster greater understanding and empathy. The goal of any class, in my opinion, is not simply that students understand the fundamental “dates and facts” but that by the end of the course they are able to use the knowledge that they have gained in order to better understand the world around them. It is important to learn not only from texts and from the instructor, but from one’s peers as well. Thus, I encourage students to take an active role in classroom discussion and encourage them to challenge each other and ask thought provoking questions.
I believe that learning must happen both inside and outside of the classroom. The best teachers are those that do not allow the texts to simply speak for themselves, but make students’ lives outside of the classroom relevant as well. In my lectures, as well as in classroom discussion, I make certain that we establish points of connection between the texts and lived experience. Another way in which I have facilitated learning outside of the classroom is through field trips and hands-on community experiences. For example, I have taken students to the Kansas City Branch of the National Archives as well as the Toledo Museum of Art, where I developed a class-specific tour along with the museum docents.
It is my sincere hope that the knowledge that students obtain in my classroom will resonate with them in other classes and throughout their lives. At the heart of every scholar is a researcher, a writer, and a teacher. In my classes, I not only instruct my students about how to be good writers and researchers, but also how to better understand the world around them. I embrace an archaeological view of knowledge and of the past; my goal is to help students uncover why things are as they are and how they got to be that way.