Statement of Teaching Philosophy
My vision for my teaching career is that I will leave the world with more people who are equipped to care for the world they live in than would have existed without me. Geography is the intellectual field that I think can and should be used to do accomplish this by virtue of its ability to embrace totality and difference at the same time despite – or perhaps through – the many significant contradictions that arise by thinking this way.
My mission for teaching is to provide a socially engaging and intellectually stimulating environment where undergraduate students are given the geographic tools – including concepts, technologies, and methods – to create authentic understandings for themselves about the world around them. I accomplish this mission by organizing the class around what I call “questions that matter” – such as, “why does poverty exist, and where does it exist?”, giving them information that matters – such as recent U.S. Census data and a basic theory of capital accumulation, and then asking them to formulate answers through homework assignments, quizzes and class projects.
As a teacher, I value three things above all: authentic understanding, student relationships, and making geography count.
- First, an understanding is an unintuitive connection that makes sense out of seemingly disparate facts and which is transferrable across many domains of knowledge. It means rising above the level of geographic facts, whether memorizing city locations or a diagram of hydrological cycle, and using knowledge to do something: to analyze the interrelationships between accumulation and dispossession, to assess the impact of immigration restrictions on immigrant family life, and to propose alternatives to dominant modes of thinking.
- Second, we remember good relationships much longer than we remember facts. I use teaching as an opportunity to build professional relationships with students so that they know what it means to be valued for their intellectual contributions, and so that they will learn how to value each others’ contributions, as well. This means that I intentionally leave gaps in the content of each course I teach and invite the students to fill those gaps with their own experience and knowledge. I do this by using students’ experiences with travelling and volunteering to provide an eye-level view during our discussions of globalization,race and racism, and place-based political movements.
- Third, and finally, I value geography as a discipline by requiring students to use geographic knowledge to become better at whatever it is they wish to become. For instance, my term project is a poster project where I ask students to analyze a geographic problem that is central to their professional field. This project has led to remarkable projects such as a poster by a pharmacy student that looked at the concentration of prescription drug abuse in Ohio, and a project by a dance major on the historical movement of Russian ballet from eastern Europe to New York City.