Aristotle taught his students that politics represents the highest form of human association, because it reflects the process through which we seek to make ourselves and our communities better. I wholeheartedly agree. I view my classroom as a microcosm of our larger political community. In my courses, my students and I engage in dialogue and deliberation. They learn that examining ourselves and our beliefs might make us uncomfortable, but this discomfort remains a necessary component of intellectual growth. And I am constantly reminded that my students have as much to offer me as I have to offer them. I seek to inculcate in students the sense that an examined life requires a continual quest for knowledge which makes us all better scholars and citizens, a philosophy which I accept unequivocally.

Most college professors’ teaching philosophies involve guiding students in developing the capacity for critical thinking required for intellectual growth. How we best achieve this objective reflects a central pedagogical question in higher education. I see my job as a teacher to motivate them to think critically. I embrace a student-centered teaching philosophy heavily rooted in emerging educational psychology research. Numerous studies indicate that students learn best when classes exhibit five characteristics that facilitate student engagement: they empower students, demonstrate clear utility to students, provide students with a concrete understanding of how to be successful, contain content or activities that interest students, and involve instructors who show interest in students and their academic achievements (Jones 2009). 

I spend a substantial amount of time tailoring my classes to ensure that they meet these five characteristics. For instance, I use informal anonymous course evaluations to provide feedback throughout the semester. This allows me to make modifications to my courses based on what instructor and course characteristics that students feel help them and modifications that would help them. I work very hard to connect the course material to contemporary events or students’ career goals. As my course evaluations show, I make certain that students possess a clear understanding my course expectations and how they will be evaluated. I tailor course content and activities to students, and they express interest in both. Finally, I care a great deal about my students and whether they achieve course objectives, which they also express recognition of in my course evaluations. 

I motivate my students using a variety of techniques. In my introductory courses, I use collaborative note-taking to help students develop good study skills. In more advanced courses, I include service learning Components encouraging students to experience course material outside of the classroom. In advanced courses for majors, I emphasize and provide a great deal of support for students pursuing internships and undergraduate research. In all of my classes, I promote discussion and student engagement with the material. I actively incorporate technology to facilitate student participation and to aid in student learning. I also incorporate current events and cultural products like popular music, movies, or television programs to aid students in applying material in ways that appear less abstract and more engaging to them. 

I expect a lot out of my students, and set the bar for their performance quite high. Students routinely identify my courses as “difficult” in their end of the semester evaluations. I push my students to meet or exceed my expectations, and many of them do. Yet despite the difficulty of my courses, students give me positive feedback. I have included a selection of these comments in this portfolio. A substantial number identified my classes as some of their favorite. I am always surprised by how many students identify my political theory courses as both the most difficult course that they have taken at Virginia Wesleyan and their favorite course, something that appears with great frequency in my teaching evaluations.

The techniques discussed above have yielded good results in my classes. Students routinely cite my courses as being difficult, but among their favorite. Most cite the engaging class discussions and inclusion of current events or popular media as reasons they like the course so much. Greater incorporation of technology, including podcasts of lectures and online quizzes, has increased the grades in my introductory courses. My focus on undergraduate research resulted in multiple students participating in the campus wide Undergraduate Research Symposium. One student’s work with me has been accepted to a highly competitive national conference in the spring of 2015. 

I truly believe that the success of my courses is as much about my students as it is about my own performance. I respect my students, and the contributions that they have to make to my classes. I consider the best part of my job to be that I am constantly learning new things, and I am always amazed at how much of this learning originates from student questions and observations. While teaching is not without its trials, I love working as a teacher.