Fayetteville State University
The goal that is foremost for me in the classroom is to foster an environment where students, regardless of background and past experiences, can thrive in an academic setting. I often remind myself that my task in the classroom is not merely to shepherd students through the memorization of concepts and passing of exams, but rather to help them adopt learning strategies that will serve them well throughout their academic careers. For many students, the content of Sociology (e.g., inequality and economic disadvantage) raises many issues pertinent to the lived experience. Therefore, rather than “preach from the pulpit,” I invite students to be full participants in the direction of lectures as well as in the evolution of class discussions. While I do not relinquish full control of the classroom in terms of presenting materials with sociological precision, I find that teaching is more effective when students feel as though their voices are heard and concerns are addressed in the classroom.
My teaching philosophy is based on the intellectual thoughts of bell hooks, an academician and critical educational theorist. In her book, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003:161), hooks proposes that “when as teachers we teach with love, combining care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust, we are often able to enter the classroom and go straight to the heart of the matter. That means having the clarity to know what to do on any given day to create the best climate for learning.” I deem it important to incorporate these attributes because they have the power to create an optimal learning environment. Perhaps learning can take place without them; however, it has been my experience that a warm learning environment produces an atmosphere where students feel secure and comfortable as they develop their intellectual selves.
While I certainly promote and attempt to help students use active learning skills, I am also an advocate of the use of reflective thinking in this process. In other words, I expect students to be active and deliberate in their thinking as well as allow other intellectual sources to shape their minds. Students can combine the use of reflective and active thinking by participating in lecture, discussions, and writing assignments that invite them to apply concepts learned in the classroom. The integration of reflective and active thinking allows for a richer, more substantive learning experience. The infusion of these cognitive experiences is enhanced by an interactive teaching style that encompasses group activities and/or collaborative learning exercises. This diverse teaching framework demonstrates my commitment to addressing the different learning styles of students. For example, I discovered that the use of popular films as a platform for the application of sociological concepts is a successful tool in cultivating active and reflective thinking processes of students.
I am convinced that professors should strive to equip students with the tools and knowledge necessary to become successful employees, engaged community members, accountable citizens, and tolerant and compassionate individuals who possess a sense of social responsibility. While the classroom environment is an integral entity in this process, I am convinced that optimal achievement of this development is obtained through a commitment to civic engagement. The connection between students and community allows for a reciprocal relationship in which service reinforces and strengthens learning and learning reinforces and strengthens service. I am persuaded that engagement of students in the community promotes a concern about social issues that motivates them to be active contributors to solutions for challenges in society.
Realizing that teaching is a progressive and evolutionary activity, I support the thought that instructional development should be relatively malleable. This malleability means considering “who” is in your classroom. Of course, in the university community, we are called upon to deal with multiple levels of diversity and intersectionality (e.g., race, social class, gender, age, sexual orientation) among our students. Thus, at the heart of my teaching is a focus on how I can best meet the educational needs of my students given the actual composition of the class. To meet this goal, I adopted and adapted core values espoused by the Association of African American Educators (AAAE 2006). While the AAAE primarily researches and addresses issues related to learning among African American students, its principles can be generalized to all students. Among the numerous core values espoused by the AAAE, those values that are most central to my teaching are: 1) Students thrive in a climate of encouragement, nurturance, and trust; 2) It is important that instructors consider the prior experience of students; 3) It is important that instructors are sensitive to the cultural traditions of all students; 4) All students must be given an equal opportunity to learn, accomplished with well-prepared educators and quality instructional materials; and 5) Instructors should realize that students have a different way of “knowing,” which necessitates flexibility in the presentation and discussion of material (AAAE 2006). My personal adoption of these principles guides me in the preparation of lectures as well as in my interactions with students. Not only do these guiding values help me place emphasis on how I teach, but I also feel that I have seen results. My students report to me in evaluations and in-person that their learning is increased under my instruction (see student testimonials and student evaluation comments).
Pedagogical Methods and Instructional Technologies
During my tenure at Fayetteville State University, I have taught the following courses: Principles of Sociology, Social Stratification, Race and Ethnic Relations, Social Problems, Sociology of Health, Social Change, Collective Behavior and Social Movements, Sociological Seminar, and Ethics and Civic Engagement in Action. I employ the following pedagogical strategies in the classroom: lecture, discussion, writing assignments, and the use of film, novels, and non-fiction. The teaching sociology literature suggests that the incorporation of films, fiction, and non-fiction in the classroom provides students the opportunity to examine lives of characters using the sociological perspective. Students are required to complete discussion preparation assignments in which they are expected to connect sociological concepts and theories to content included in film and books. Books used in courses include The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Playground, Who Asked You?,Living and Dying in Brick City: Stories from the Front Lines of an Inner-City ER, Buck, Queen Sugar, and Hidden Figures. I have used many popular movies and documentaries in class. I employed iClicker technology in the classroom for two academic years. I am an avid user of many features in the Canvas Learning Management System. Positive evaluations from students suggest that they believe that the courses contribute to their learning.
Since the 2012-2013 academic year, a Supplemental Instruction (SI) Peer Instruction Leader has been assigned to the Principles of Sociology classes taught by me. Supplemental Instruction is a student-driven academic assistance program that improves academic performance by employing collaborative learning strategies. This instructional strategy has been beneficial to students enrolled in my classes.
Service Learning Courses
Upon completion of the Ethics and Civic Engagement Fellows training, I began to incorporate a service learning component in some of my courses. As a matter of fact, it was in the ETCE 200 course that I taught in fall semester 2015 and spring 2016 whereby students were engaged in the planning, implementation, and launching of the Campus Kitchen at Fayetteville State University (CKFSU). The students’ work on this project is permanently etched in the history of FSU because the university is the first and [still] only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the United States to have a Campus Kitchen. In addition to serving as a volunteer for various projects associated with CKFSU, service learning students have collaborated with the Bronco Wellness organization and Wellness Ambassadors.
Association of African American Educators. 2006. Core Values and Beliefs.
San Diego: San Diego State University.
hooks, bell. 2003. Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope.
New York: Routledge.