“The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires,” William Arthur Ward

Like many of my colleagues, I prefer to avoid a history of assumptions, simplifications, and mythologies and strive instead to challenge what my students think they know, to establish what they in fact do know, and to introduce to them ideas of which they were not at all aware.  I also share the now common belief that critical thinking should be privileged over strict memorization.  


However, neither idea underpins my teaching philosophy. 


My beliefs about teaching, learning, and the process of knowledge-sharing revolve instead around passion.  I have an insatiable hunger for knowledge, and that hunger spills over into my classrooms.  I teach with enthusiasm; I strive for sensitivity; and, I prioritize student engagement.  With that exuberance and that dedication, I hope to relay my own sense of passion and to inspire my students with a similar curiosity – whatever their majors, minors, or career goals.  I have by no means perfected the art or the science of teaching, but by crafting a narrative that ignites the imaginations of my students, I believe that I am giving them the best opportunity to understand and to apply foundational ideas.  I am also offering them the tools with which to “learn” (and, one hopes, to enjoy) the material that is presented in class. 


Still, it is too simplistic to say simply that I am passionate about history on a personal level or that I seek to be passionate about the subject on a professional level.  I methodically and intentionally construct my courses so that students are given the best possible opportunity to see history as a subject inviting of emotion.  Specifically, I endeavor in each class:

  • To incorporate multiple perspectives and, hopefully, new voices;
  • To facilitate discussion and maintain an environment in which that discussion can play out openly and productively;
  • To encourage critical thinking and a questioning mindset; and
  • To embrace a variety of teaching tools. 

What this means practically is that I frame historical information in a way that is both digestible and accessible – emphasizing forceful stories and silenced voices, drawing subtle connections and asking difficult questions, unveiling the hierarchies and ideas that seem both to persist and to shape daily life, and encouraging my students to contribute their own interpretations. 


Because I do not consider the regurgitation of knowledge and the absorption of knowledge to be equal, I prioritize critical thinking by treating the learning process as an opportunity for students to piece together broad trends and meaningful patterns from a compilation of so-called facts.  To demonstrate what they have learned, I ask my students to discuss in an essay question the mythic history that surrounds the Founding Fathers, to trace in a short answer the similarities and differences between the Great Depression and the Current Recession, or to craft in a film review a narrative that focuses on poor widows as well as elite white men.  Details are unquestionably important, but it is not enough for students to know the facts.  I want them to apply those facts; I want them to disconnect from our increasingly hyper-connected world and to consider the smells of a nineteenth century city, the emotions of a slave en route across the Atlantic, or the hopes of a sixteenth century adventurer. 


To convey passion and to stimulate discovery – that is my teaching philosophy.  Columbia University Professor Mark Van Doren once noted, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.”  His statement captures well the manner in which I approach my classes.  I cannot reach every student, but when I speak avidly and invite sincerity on the part of my students, my lectures become more palatable and my classroom, more engaging.  When I piece together honest stories of historical import, I bring my students into an arena where history is a collection not simply of facts but of livable moments.  By assisting discovery, I not only evoke a somewhat unquenchable, personal zeal for history but also put myself in the position to invoke something of the same from my students.