Teaching Statement: Functional Pedagogy
I think of myself as a functional teacher. In every interaction with students, whether they be undergraduate or graduate, I ask myself: What is my role? What does the student need? What can I teach them? What can I learn from them? In each situation, with every student, and in each class, I expect the answer to be different. My approach, however, is the same: How can I best leverage what I know (as a life-long student myself and in my nearly twenty-five years teaching) to provide them with the critical skills that they can carry over beyond our meeting and after we have a class together? The functional model of teaching believes in guided teaching through interaction in the context of shared experience (Rose & Martin, 2012). Working together to discover material, decipher texts and images, and arrive at conclusions has shifted my emphasis away from mastery of knowledge to critical inquiry, which in the humanities is key as a tool for empowering all students to become active learners, regardless of the specific pedagogical context or their role in the classroom.
It has taken me a long time to figure this out, and to shift my focus away from myself and onto my students. When I first started teaching, I thought that my success as a teacher depended entirely on me: Was I prepared? Did I know my material by heart? I often was so focused on my own performance that I was not present with my students in their learning experience. I have shifted that focus over time to my students, knowing that to do so requires me to be much more open, spontaneous, and flexible than I was when I started teaching as a graduate student and junior faculty member years ago. At the start of every semester, I share with my students that our main objective is to build a forum for learning together, in mutual respect, shared conversation, and cumulative experiences in learning and understanding our topic that seeks to tether what we bring from outside into class. Meaning: How can we take the tools of close reading, critical inquiry, and constructive dialogue and bring that learning to bear not only on our continued studies but also on how we approach knowledge every day, not just in the University but also out in the street, at home, and in our communities?
If my professional development has guided me throughout the years, it has been a decade of every day experiences taking care of a son and spouse with disabilities (one born with Down syndrome and the other acquired from surviving brain cancer) that has shaped my teaching methodology. My previous register for success was based on classifications of excellence derived from an Ivy League education in graduate school and the grind of tenure track. I was much less aware of visible and invisible differences and disabilities than I am today. It has become vitally important to me to bring empathy to my teaching and interactions with students and colleagues. As an art historian who teaches classes in Spanish culture, literature and the arts my academic focus has not been the primary motor for understanding the range of student experiences or how these impact their learning in the classroom.
My desire is to seamlessly merge my research and teaching with what I have learned at home. The transfer of knowledge between these domains has taken some time, and has been fortified by work that I have done outside of NYU as an advocate within the public school and disability communities. I presume competence and excellence from all of my students while also working hard to avoid projecting assumed expectations or stereotypes onto individual students. Instead, I approach teaching with an open mind. I invite students to bring their unique perspectives into the classroom and to take what may be perceived as limits or deficits as thresholds to be crossed and barriers to be broken. I try to embed into the way that I teach and the way that I present myself a style that is approachable, open-ended, and inviting. Often my students have commented that they have felt comfortable approaching me after class, in office hours, and have welcomed the way that I break down concepts, guide them through complex historical moments, and make the culture of Spain interesting for them. I take pride in teaching over a hundred students in Cultures and Contexts and I invest a great deal of time and attention to my Teaching Assistants so that they also benefit from teaching on the “big stage” in front of a lot of students, but also cultivate strong positive relationships with their students in their smaller group meetings. Team teaching has also benefitted my growth as I have learned from my colleagues, on the undergraduate level with Professor Miriam Basilio from art history and this semester with a colleague team teaching a graduate seminar.
The five years that I spent as Director of Undergraduate Studies in my Department were fundamental in bringing to my attention the many challenges our students and faculty face. In my capacity as DUS I served on many College committees that furthered my understanding of the role of diversity among our students and faculty in broadening our attention to student experience. With Associate DUS Lourdes Dávila, we sought to introduce improvements in building a strong undergraduate community (creating with office of residential life a Spanish language floor, fostering strong support for honors students through our Departmental honors seminar and end-of-the-year Departmental undergraduate symposium, introducing new 2- and 4-credit courses, strengthening our Department’s writing center, promoting our Internship program and Department journal Esferas and scheduling regular open houses with undeclared and declared majors and minors). We began an ongoing initiative to visit Spanish language classes every fall semester to talk about the Department majors and minors as well as introduce students to the benefits of studying abroad, pursuing double majors with our Department, and breaking down some of the myths about what our faculty research and teaching so that they might see a continuum from Freshmen Seminars and the Core curriculum to our most specialized advanced courses. I served as a Global Coordinator for Madrid and on the site-specific advisory committee for Madrid, which in combination with my role as Chair of the Advisory Committee for the King Juan Carlos I Center allowed me to understand deeply the value of our students’ experiences abroad as well as the ways we can coordinate those experiences away from campus with the rich opportunities students have here on the Square to further their extra-curricular exposure to Spain and Latin America.
My dual focus on student and faculty experience, and my commitment to bridging our experiences as researches to our teaching in the classroom, directly informed my interest in Dean Jarret’s Task Force on Mentorship, for which I served as Chair for the sub-group on Student Exposure/Involvement in Faculty Scholarship 2018-2019.