Teaching Statement

My role, as an instructor of Political Science, is to foster within my students the skills to critically engage and analyze the world around them. To do so, my courses focus on the presentation of theories and concepts rooted in both historical and empirical material. Lectures, discussions, and assignments are designed to help students develop tools to analyze and synthesize key ideas covered in the material. Accordingly, my teaching style is highly interactive. In each class session, I emphasize both critical thinking and active learning. I challenge students to examine their previously held beliefs about how international actors interact and the implications of critical issues. For example, when I taught Elements of International Relations, Duke’s introductory IR course, during the 2012 Summer Session, I found that students held strong opinions regarding the impact of nuclear proliferation. To have students challenge their pre-conceived ideas on these issues, I grouped students according to their opinions and then had each group present arguments for the opposing side. I implemented the same technique for a discussion of the normative implications of globalization and received feedback from students that creating such internal cognitive dissonance helped them to not only better understand key concepts, but to also develop a more nuanced view of the issue. I also utilize active learning techniques to help students grasp new ideas and concepts. For example, in leading discussion sections for “International Security,” a mid-level course, I found that students had trouble understanding how competing grand theories of war can apply to specific militarized conflicts. To actively engage with these issues, I split my students into small groups, assigned them each a theory to evaluate, and had them discuss the direct applicability of a particular theory to the causes of WWI. After a few minutes, the glass regrouped and each group’s thoughts and conclusions were put up for discussion. Such critical thinking exercises give students the opportunity to engage in the material with their peers, leading not only to better comprehension of the material but to stronger critical thinking skills. 

This interactive critical thinking based approach to teaching also extends to my selection of course materials, the use of technology in the classroom, and the balance between lecture and discussion. Further, my teaching style in this regard has developed through student feedback. After running several discussion sessions, students indicated they preferred additional ways beyond the assigned readings and class discussion to engage in the course material, especially regarding historically based content. In constructing the syllabus for my own course in “Elements of International Relations,” I utilized outside websites and in class activities to help students visualize key issues. For example, I found the use of interactive online timelines to be particularly helpful for understanding the development of both the Cold War and WWI. Similarly, having students work together to draw WWII troop movements on the board during lecture helped students better grasp issues associated with military effectiveness. These alternative and highly interactive approaches reach students with different learning styles, while also encouraging the class to critically engage with course readings.

The same type of student feedback which led to my use of additional alternative materials has also guided my lecture style as a whole. Based on student feedback, I have worked to foster deeper class discussion during lecture. In each course, I focus on establishing a rapport with students by maintaining a professional, yet accessible atmosphere. Rather than having students feel they are being “talked at” during lectures, it is of the utmost importance that students are intellectually stimulated by course material during class sessions and are actively participating in their education. In each course, regardless of class size, I seek to create an intellectual community in my classroom in which students are invited to engage, not just with me, but with each other. For example, rather than answering a student’s question directly, I may turn the question back to the class. This leads students to discuss the material with each other while I offer guidance throughout discussion. Similarly, I may challenge a student’s answer with an additional question meant to probe the next logical step of a student’s response.  Thus, students in my course are guided through the material so that students leave my course with not just a deeper knowledge of specific issues, but also a fuller understanding of the world around then. Accordingly, I begin and end each class session with key questions to help guide student understanding of how the lecture fits into the course as a whole. Through this lecture style, students leave my class more confident in their oral expression skills and better prepared to think critically about future issues.

In addition, I seek to help my students become more effective communicators, both inside and outside of the classroom.  This includes not just oral skills, through class discussion, but also written skills. I believe that students should not just analyze ideas, but also form their own ideas and opinions on critical issues. As such, each course I teach has a writing component, requiring students to summarize, analyze/critique, and present their own improvements to a class reading. Further, I provide extensive written feedback in order to improve my students’ writing skills by encouraging them to further engage with their own ideas. Student feedback has indicated that such techniques are particularly helpful in gaining a stronger understanding of the material as well as improving students’ confidence in their own abilities to write and create.

Finally, I strongly believe that teaching does not end in the classroom. Advising and student-involved research are extremely important to me. During my undergraduate program at Furman University, I conducted research with different professors. Through these experiences, I fostered strong relationships with faculty who helped guide my academic, intellectual, and personal development. During my time as a graduate student at Duke University, I have mentored undergraduate students who have sought out my advice and academic counsel. For example, I worked with two students on their senior research theses, meeting to discuss their ideas throughout the year. Similarly, in several courses, I worked extensively with students on large research papers, meeting multiple times throughout the course to discuss drafts, revisions, and the student’s ideas. This student interaction is critical to my professional development as an instructor. Both inside and outside of the classroom, the most rewarding moments are seeing the look on a student’s face when he/she has fully grasped an idea - when the “aha!” moment strikes. I encourage students to conduct their own research or to explore areas of interest to them outside of the classroom, whether by meeting to discuss ideas or by suggesting materials that would help them further their interest and learning. Even more so, I learn from my own students, particularly through discussing their academic passions and in reading their own work. For me, teaching and learning do not end in the classroom. They are a crucial component of my academic and professional fulfillment.