Students from St. Rodrigue HS, Lesotho
Teaching is an art and a craft. From the time I first started working in an educational settting, a summer camp in northern Kentucky, through my experiences teaching at the junior high and high school level to my current situation of designing and teaching undergraduate history courses, I have always found the challenge of instruction invigorating. Designing, planning, working through course material and then taking it all in new directions when student interest and inquiry dictate changes 'on the fly' make teaching a craft that keeps my mind nimble and, in situations where it is done properly, challenges both students and me to ponder new questions and come up with answers to questions we might not have even thought to ask. The best teaching is that which asks both students and teachers to engage with ideas and course material in new and innovative ways. Courses should not consist merely of a routine: read, lecture, structured (and often stilted) discussion, evaluation. Rather they should force everyone to explore new ways of engaging with ideas: hands-on learning, discussion leading, document analysis, writing workshops where a community of equals gives feedback on the use of evidence and argumentation to improve students' understanding of complex ideas, and their verbal and written communication of these ideas.
At the introductory level I teach the General Education World History classes to a class of about 50, most of them non-majors. Focusing on primary source analysis and writing, I have the students work every Friday on primary source documents. They are responsible for breaking down the documents in groups and reporting back to the full group. They are also asked to write a series of one-page papers through the course of the semester which serves to help them sharped their argumentation, as well as allowing me to provide feedback on writing multiple times, even in a large survey class.
At the upper level, I ask students to engage deeper with the course material, learning how to deconstruct arguments, put them in their historiographical context and critique arguments. In all of the classes I have students work with primary sources, and write using primary documents. In my African History survey classes, students are responsible for leading primary source class discussion--after meeting with me for planning purposes. They also write response papers connecting overall course themes to the close-focus of the primary source documents. Other upper level classes, like the Slavery in World History class for which the syllabus is below, focus more on large-group discussion, but all classes ask students to write multiple papers. I do this so I have a chance to provide feedback and work one-on-one with everyone in the class, even as enrollments sometimes approach 30 students at the upper level.
Having been trained as a teacher and still holding an Alaska teaching certificate, I take the craft of teaching very seriously and my goal is for all students who sign up for my classes to come out of them knowing more about the history of Africa, more about their own strengths and weaknesses in an academic setting and more confident in their own abilities to understand, distill and communicate complex ideas to a broad audience.
Below are two classes I have developed and taught, one in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, and the other at SUNY Cortland.