Teaching anthropology is a passion of mine, because I can help prepare students for a future in which they will need to work across cultural boundaries and make them think more critically about vital domestic issues, like immigration and gender equality. I can broaden students’ perspectives and introduce them to other ways of thinking. To date, my students have almost exclusively been non-majors, and I take it as a personal challenge to foster an interest in anthropology. My goals as an educator include creating a productive learning environment, encouraging students to apply what they have learned to real-world issues, using evaluations as a learning tool, and giving students a sense that they are part of a scholarly community.
Relating to students: It is important to me to get to know my students by name and get a sense of how they are doing in the class, whether I am teaching 100 students in discussion sections for a 300-seat ANTH1000 lecture or 19 students in ANTH1000W, “Other People’s Worlds,” an introduction to cultural anthropology and writing in the disciplines. Many non-majors come to ANTH1000 with preconceived ideas about topics such as race, gender, and family, and I try to understand and work from that. Students do not all learn in the same way, so I try to vary my instruction methods in class, using not just lecture but movies, video clips, small group discussions, pair-and-compare exercises, debates, and in-class writing. I try to give my students alternative ways to participate, like submitting questions by email before class.
Applying class to the real world: I always relate anthropological concepts we learn about in class to current events and pop culture. When we talk about sex and gender, I ask my students to debate the use of gender testing in sports and whether intersex athletes should be allowed to compete. I also ask them to generate a list of traits that they associate with masculinity and femininity, to discuss whether they believe those traits can meaningfully be associated with male and female genders, and to evaluate whether those differences may be natural or cultural. I measure my success by how my students connect what they learn in my class with what they are learning in other classes, and even more by how they bring in other real-world examples from their own lives and the news. I am happiest when they send me articles, showing that they continue to think about our discussions outside of class.
Empowering student to produce knowledge: To engage students, I think that it is important to teach knowledge as a process rather than a static set of ideas. Rather than giving my students one approach to a topic, I try to introduce several competing theories and ask them to evaluate which make the most sense. I also share my own experiences as an anthropologist and writer, so that they can see the work in progress. In my writing class, I assign a research paper, even though it is not required, because I think that it is important to know how to find out about a topic and make an original argument about it, supported with evidence. To give my students the sense that they are part of a scholarly community, I provide guest lectures in my colleagues’ classes on my research topics, and ask them to provide guest lectures for me.
My approach to teaching has evolved through my experiences as a student and as an educator. I try to teach the way that I prefer to be taught, and share the excitement about my research topic that led me to pursue a career in anthropology with my students. I have also attended the University of Connecticut Institute for Teaching and Learning’s Summer Institute. I want my students to emerge from my courses with an improved capacity to understand and think analytically about the world around them.