My teaching philosophy owes a lot to my personal experience as a student. I was lucky enough to attend a small liberal arts college where professors really took teaching seriously. My mentor was the type of person who filled her classroom with students who chose to take the course “for the professor” rather than “for the topic.” She introduced us to the major debates within her field in a way that avoided watering them down into theoretical caricatures. She had high expectations of her students but provided an even higher level of support. We rarely agreed on any given topic but she would never belittle me with her vastly superior knowledge. Instead, she cultivated my critical thinking skills with very pointed questions about my implicit assumptions. Above all, she was passionate about the field and this was what attracted students. It is with this experience in mind that I have developed my teaching philosophy.
In my classroom, teaching and learning are about discovering the field through the construction of good questions. Rather than teaching with a particular answer in mind, great teaching is about starting with a puzzle and bringing students along in the discovery process. In my course on the recent financial crisis, we start with the observation that “greed” and “stupidity” are about as useful in explaining the financial crash as “gravity” is in explaining airplane crashes. With the conventional wisdom out the window, students must grapple with a number of different perspectives. In my organized crime course, students seek to explain the paradox of trust and cooperation among criminals in spite of the idea that there is “no honor among thieves”. In my race and ethnicity course, students explore the mechanisms through which racial inequality stubbornly persists decades after the civil rights movement and the relative decline of overt racism. I encourage students to develop their sociological imaginations through reflexive writing assignments and extensive in-class discussion. My lectures are there only to equip students with the vocabulary and theoretical/methodological background necessary for critical thinking on substantive topics.