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Statement of Teaching Philosophy
As a teacher, I
believe in mixing up my teaching based on the material, rather than trying to fit
the material into the same pedagogical box. Some classes are better taught focused on a
discussion of a single quotation. Others work best by putting five or six authors in convers
with one another. Others thrive when an image, or a series of images, is the focal point of the
conversation. In each class, at the very
least, I try to engage students in a variety of ways, with
visuals, sounds, and words.
However, I also believe that less can be more. Each class I lead has
a particular goal, and each discussion is the result of careful preparation.
I don’t want my
students to leave class with their heads spinning from overstimulation. I want them to engage
the material at hand
, and to leave each class with some concrete understanding. So I also try to
end each class with
three minutes of summation. Sometimes I recap for the students and leave
them with three “thoughts of the day.” Other times, I ask them to take
a moment andwrite down
three things they learned
and one question they have.
same principles apply to my approach to lecturing; many of the same techniques are
I see lecture as a conversation between me and my students, the sources, and the
orical narrative. I try to make connections. I try to use images and sounds as well as words
and concepts and timelines. I try to push my students to see history as
full of chaos and
contingency, full of whats and hows and whys, full of people and event
s and institutions. I think
that my greatest ability as a thinker, teacher, and learner is my abili
ty to organize my thoughts.
lthough I try to use a wide variety of sources and address multiple concepts, I take great pride
in the tight organization of
my lectures. What I may lack in intellectual creativity or theoretical
, I possess in planning and structure.
Teaching history for me, then, hinges on the balance between teaching content and teaching
two, of course, are related: historical inquiry involves the ability not only to grasp a
certain amount of information,
but also to classify, organize, and analyze it and then to convey
conclusion in clear prose. I try to model this process for students in my lectures, andI
ge them to do this in discussions. I especially work with them on cultivating this process
in their writing. Precise writing is invaluable but difficult, and recently I have been focusing
students on two
single aspects of their prose: the thesis statement and the clean paragraph. My
favorite exercise is to pull a paragraph from a reading, cut up the sentences on slips of paper, and
ask students to reconstruct the paragraph from the separate sentences.
Students today are
swamped with information from
sources all around them, from blogs to Wikipedia to a 24/7
news cycle to social media
. My goal as a teacher—and this is also the goal of the humanities, I
—is to help them learn how to sift and analyze this mass of information for themselves.
Years ago when I was first trying to decide what kind of job to look for, my father, an economics
professor at Geo
rgia Tech who loves teaching so much that he still teaches three courses a year,
into his retirement, chortled that he wouldn’t be much help. “I haven’t had to work a
day in my life,” he told me. I was puzzled
then. But now I know what he means. Teaching and
studying history is
not work. As my first Nationalism seminar showed, it may be hard to do. It
may take struggling to learn
how to ask the right questions, or hours of searching for the right
subverting one’s own ego to let students’ thoughts emerge, ordays of careful planning
and organization and exhortation.
It may take years of tinkering to get right. But it’s what I love,
and it certainly doesn’t feel like work
. Being in the classroom makes me a better historian.
Researching and writing his
tory makes me a better teacher. History is my vocation and my
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