I’m honored to have been nominated for a teaching award. i love teaching, and care a lot about trying to do it well. at nyu, i have taught small courses and an 80-person history of ancient philosophy course, and i have supervised students in honors theses (two this year, and three others in my previous years at nyu), in addition to graduate teaching. i also re-founded and run the philosophy department’s outreach program, big questions: I lead philosophy classes for middle-school and high-school students at local schools and at NYU, and I supervise NYU undergraduate and graduate students in leading their own classes, working with them to develop lesson plans and giving them supervision. I have also done some volunteer teaching at Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center, through a prison education program run by Columbia University.
Although I of course tailor my teaching to these very different contexts, in all of them I have the same driving concerns: I want the students to be engaged, and to be thinking through the issues for themselves. I have developed two main strategies for this.
First, I put a lot of thought into how to motivate and explain the questions we are discussing – because understanding the question is often, in philosophy, the hardest and most important part, perhaps particularly when dealing with Ancient texts from 2000 years ago. I search for examples or analogies or frameworks to help make even abstruse philosophical questions clear and accessible. I keep a sharp lookout for signs that the students are disengaged, which I take to show that they have not understood the question, or have not seen why it is interesting and important, and I work harder to make things clear.
Second, I put a lot of effort into keeping the students actively thinking during class time. Even in my big lecture courses (which have separate discussion sessions run by TAs), I encourage discussion during lectures, asking questions of the students and letting them ask with their own. In smaller classes I give mini-lectures from time to but otherwise run the class as a discussion seminar. Sometimes I break up the students into small groups to work on a task together, and then bring the class back together to compare results. But whatever we are doing, I strive to keep them actively thinking, trying to understand things for themselves and develop their own ideas, rather than passively accepting claims from on high.
(If in these aims and strategies I am sounding suspiciously like Plato’s Socrates, well, Plato’s dialogues are still my favorite texts, and Socrates’ ideas about teaching are the best I have read!)
I love teaching because it is energizing, because it helps me understand the ideas more deeply, and most of all because it is deeply rewarding to get to be a part of other people’s process of learning how to be a thinker.