As an early-career sociologist, the main objective in my courses is to equip students with sufficient knowledge and necessary transferable analytical skills which enables students to critically link personal troubles to social structures and to transform them into relatable and researchable questions. To instill a sense of agency in the face of social problems, I consistently work towards creating a space in which knowledge is directed toward empowerment and constructive action. It is due to these qualities that my students characterize their experience in my class as “life changing” and “eye opening,” and view me as “more than a professor but [ as someone who] enters the class as a peer and one that not only shows understanding but inspires his students.”
I learned and adopted these principles over time, by reflecting on my teaching experience and students’ evaluations. Besides my Masters in Lifelong Learning from the Institute of Education, University College London, I seized every learning opportunity that helped me promote my curriculum development and pedagogical skills at the University of South Florida. For instance, in the first semester of my doctoral program I enrolled in the Teaching Sociology course in the Department of Sociology. This training program is the recipient of the 2016 Southern Sociological Society’s Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award for its rigorous teacher training and successful placement of students into academic positions.
To further hone my teaching skills and enhance my pedagogical techniques, I also attended a ten-week workshop and received a certificate from the Office of Academic Teaching and Learning Excellence (ATLE). In this workshop, I learned how to design my syllabi and structure my classes with the aim of encouraging constant engagement and reflection among students with diverse backgrounds and needs. Additionally, I recently received a certificate from ATLE that certifies me as an online instructor. My rigorous teaching has resulted in very positive student evaluations (the average across sections that I have taught is 4.8/5), which is above both my department’s average (4.4/5) and the average in the College of Arts and Sciences (4.2/5).
Additionally, this past two years I was honored with three teaching awards: a Distinguished Teaching Award and a Distinguished Award for Teaching Excellence both from the Department of Sociology, and the Sage Teaching Award by the ASA section on Teaching and Learning (please see my online teaching portfolio listed below). I was the first graduate student to ever receive the Distinguished Award for Teaching Excellence in my department.
At the Department of Sociology, I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to develop and implement my own syllabi for all of my 13 courses. This freedom, enriched by the supervision and mentoring of the department’s Director of Pedagogy, Dr. Maralee Mayberry, has given me the chance to pursue my commitment to progressive change and social justice in choosing my class material, assignments, and teaching practices.
To initiate the process of positive social change in my classes, I encourage students to bring their life experiences to the class and take sociological concepts and theories with them into the world in the hope of seeing social life from a new perspective. This iterative process of experiential learning requires me to create a student-centered learning environment as an intellectually engaging space in which I function as a facilitator, as a liaison between knowledge and its application, rather than merely a conveyor of dry knowledge divorced from its real-life applications. Drawing mind maps to agree on class rules, expectations, and outcomes on the first session, having students sign the syllabus to promote mutual responsibility, and promoting discussions and group activities are pedagogical techniques that forge an analytical bridge between abstract knowledge and its applications.
Considering that sociology primarily focuses on social action and social order, I do not limit my class activities to the indoor space. In my Classical Sociological Theory class, for instance, when teaching Émile Durkheim’s concept of deviance, we all go out and “Do Nothing.” In groups of five students scatter around campus to see how doing nothing, for example, just gazing into the void, can provoke reactions from strangers, whose societal expectations of “proper” conduct is ignored. We learn that doing nothing in a society that expects us to be constantly busy could be considered deviant. We also observe how the trivial act of playing with a pen or being on the phone can divert the attention away from us. We also observe that how the trivial act of playing with a pen or being on the phone reduced. This activity is a relevant instance of Durkheim’s argument that deviant behavior is deviant because we define it as such.
In my Contemporary Social Problems class, where my students are starting to get familiar with sociological concepts and sociological analysis, we do activities such as the Privilege Walk, through which students learn how different but overlapping social statuses such as race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, religious and national background, and physical and mental disabilities can affect our lives and shape our life chances. Depending on the course and class size, we also have several activities inside the classroom. After covering Marx, Weber, and Durkheim in my Classical Sociological Theory course, for instance, I ask students in groups of three to write a play in which these sociological figures debate relevant issues such as the “Fight for $15.” Volunteers can perform the play in the class.
Based on the level of the class, I change the content, activities, and assessment methods of classes. Combination of diverse teaching and assessment methods, geared towards real life application of knowledge, accommodates for (1) different ways that students learn, and (2) various worldviews that students hold. Receiving 4.95/5 on the measure of respect and concern for students in my Racial and Ethnic Relations class with controversial topics, testifies to commitment to diversity, respect, and inclusion.
In my current course on Ethnic and Racial Relations, the final assignment is organized around a semester-long group project in which students conduct a preliminary literature review on the location and plights of a certain ethnic or racial group in the US. After gaining sufficient knowledge, students are guided to find the corresponding student organization on campus and interview its members to learn about the challenges that they face in the university setting. By bringing the literature and the data together, we will produce a document with suggestions for the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, Equal Opportunity and the president’s office. To achieve all these in a summer session, we devote our Friday sessions to working on the project in a computer lab.
As these examples show, my teaching philosophy is one that strives to create responsible and informed citizens and professionals. This can be achieved through promoting respectful conversations, developing critical thinking skills, and applying abstract knowledge to our real-life experiences. My aim is to make students care. I want them to believe that a better world is possible, and that world can be created only if we start evaluating our worldviews from other people’s perspective through the lens of understanding and empathy.
Statement of Teaching Philosophy