Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy is influenced by my commitments to student-centered learning, philosophical praxis, and increasing diversity within the academy. As such, I strive to create curricula that promote active participation in shaping course trajectories, application of theory to real world cases and cross-disciplinary practices, and accessibility and validation for students from a diversity of experiential and educational backgrounds.

Commitments to student-centered pedagogy

While my role as an educator is to provide a solid foundation in historical and contemporary philosophical training, I also view my role in the classroom setting as a facilitator. In my capacity as instructor, I provide the technical and methodological background necessary to work through difficult texts by offering lectures, guided readings, and exercises in practical skills, such as analytic reasoning. In my capacity as facilitator, I encourage active listening, reading, critical thinking, and reflection through moderated discussions and activities that allow students to teach one another while discovering their own learning styles and processes. This might take the shape of a jigsaw activity where students work in groups to lead one another through a passage, an activity that asks students to set learning outcomes and for an upcoming paper or peer review session, or discussion wherein question and response is used to generate a complex outline of the central argument of a text. When serving as an instructor and facilitator to undergraduates, I consider my job to include sharing knowledge of historical and contemporary philosophical movements, guiding students to develop and hone a skillset in critical thinking, reading, and writing, and helping students form a broad set of social literacies that prepare them for success within and beyond college.

One of my favorite parts of teaching is learning, and by blending firm guidance with flexibility of approach and application, I find that I continue to learn from each and every class I teach by inviting students to become co-educators. Because students bring a plurality of experiences and knowledges to the classroom, I work to dispel the myth of the “ideal” student and use learning reflections that help students discover their unique learning styles and assets as they grapple with difficult texts and questions. My teaching experience at DePaul University and University of New Mexico (UNM), both of which serve extremely diverse populations, have taught me that helping students feel comfortable when they encounter ideas or gaps in knowledge that may initially cause them discomfort is a catalyst in boosting student involvement and learning at every level as well as fostering ethically responsible epistemic humility. That is, in philosophy we can learn, following Socrates, that knowing that you don’t know is an asset rather than a disadvantage. While many students come into the philosophy classroom with anxieties, my students tend to leave with competencies they carry into their daily lives, and often tell me that my courses reinspired a passion for education that propelled them toward career and life goals with newfound purpose.

Commitments to philosophical praxis
Because I believe that philosophy springs from and remains tethered to the world we share, my courses stress an understanding of philosophy as that which is essentially related to praxis and thoughtful action. By employing a combination of theoretical reasoning and examples, I encourage students to link all of our work to their own lives and to bring their own experiential learning into the classroom. When teaching ethics or multiculturalism, this might result in a case study project wherein students apply philosophical skills and theoretical knowledge through analysis of events or policy. By testing application of various theoretical approaches, students discover the value of philosophical methodology and the immediacy of impact thought can have on action. When teaching existentialism or affect theory, this approach might result in assignments that solicit reflections on connections between theory and art, or when teaching Descartes or Locke, this might result in running several thought experiments. I use a three-step method in all of my courses that encourages students to develop a tripartite skillset in reading, questioning, and analysis. Students are encouraged to focus first on active and charitable reading, then on formulating questions to clarify and dissect the argument, and finally on assessing the argument through an analysis of its logical structure and worldly implications.

While philosophy can easily fall into esoteric rumination, I believe that philosophical methods are critical for students working toward many degrees and career paths. Rather than tell students that philosophy is relevant to their own lives, I show them that it is by prompting ethical and practical deliberation in course discussions as well as encouraging the use of everyday examples within their own writing and projects. My assignments reinforce this by requiring students to define and provide illustrations of technical jargon rather than rely on obscure generalities. I find that this not only reveals the indispensability of philosophical education but strengthens student investment and fosters a respect for diversity of perspectives as well. Moreover, this approach often calls attention to the ethical, social, and political implications of philosophical work, inviting students to carry thoughtful praxis into the world we inhabit and create in common.

Commitments to diversity in the academy

My commitment to diversity and inclusion as well as my own experiences as a first-generation student and advocate for non-traditional undergraduate learners are reflected both in my syllabus design and lesson planning. By encouraging students to bring examples from their own lives to the table, I work to make complex theoretical material accessible to and relevant for students with a variety of educational experiences. My approach to syllabi-building is historical insofar as I aim to demonstrate that philosophical work unfolds as a dialogue by highlighting direct lines of influence and critical development within a given problematic. I am, however, aware that the traditional canon often excluded important contributions to the history of ideas. To mitigate this and decenter emphases that result in further marginalization, I bring in thinkers that have historically been marginalized while calling attention to areas of scholarship and questioning that may have been left out of more traditional summaries of the topic. I also make a point of covering contemporary philosophers working on current issues to remind students that philosophy remains a vital and vibrant undertaking today.

My experience teaching in within the Core Writing Program in UNM’s Department of English involved a year-long teaching practicum in which I learned to respond to and teach student writers from a variety of linguistic and experiential backgrounds by applying a genre-based approach. In teaching students about the genres of philosophical reading and writing, I boost their attentiveness to the goals of particular forms of communication while calling attention to the discursive plasticity they have already mastered within everyday negotiations of multimodal forms of writing and literacy. I use scaffolding to break intimidating assignments into achievable goals with definitive purposes, teaching students to understand the link between critical, well-reasoned thinking and acting and organized, critical argument or exposition. This motivates students to discover their own strengths as writers and thinkers, and often results in increased student participation and retention. More so than an approach that shames students into disavowing their native literacies to adopt academic conventions they may have no genuine understanding of, this style of instruction integrates pluralistic literacies by bringing explicit attention to implicit skill sets.

The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.

Paulo Freire
We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change