CUTF Blog Post #2: Teach the way you want to be taught

I connected to my faculty mentor for the CUTF project, Dr. Lotz, at first by taking several of his courses. My first course with Dr. Lotz as the professor was a large lecture for the Political Theory course (PS 0300) that is a requirement for all Political Science Majors. I didn’t connect personally with Dr. Lotz at this time, as it is extremely difficult to do so in a large lecture setup. However, I paid attention to the way that Dr. Lotz taught the course. From discussing the implications of Plato’s Republic to more modern writings on political theory–the course material was always taught with great enthusiasm for the topic and for thinking in general. The course material was attainable despite expectations suggesting otherwise. Every assignment I wrote to analyze great works in the field felt personal and important. I thrived. So when it came time to select more courses for my Political Science Major, I knew that I could rely on Dr. Lotz’s teaching methods to spark my curiosity and develop my critical thinking. I later took both Political Theory and the Future (PS 1693) and Myth, Propaganda, and the State (PS 1604) with Dr. Lotz. Over these courses, my analysis and critical thinking skills vastly improved as I was challenged to think about future issues from a new, future-regarding perspective and tasked with assessing the implications of propaganda and a nation’s myths. 

However, I took these courses at a time when a pandemic was shaking the future of the world and my future right with it. I do not think that I have to speak to the uncertainty and paralyzing fear many have felt since the pandemic started, but I will speak to Dr. Lotz’s constant understanding and patience for the struggles students go through. I was able to be honest with Dr. Lotz about the state of mental health and wellbeing throughout the courses I took. This was the key to developing the CUTF project for Political Theory and the Future. Certainly, there are students out there who have made it through the pandemic largely unscathed–and I applaud them for that. But that is not a realistic expectation to set for yourself. It takes maturity and strength to admit when you are struggling and need help. On behalf of a student looking for an opportunity to improve classroom teaching, it is important to look for faculty members who have a work ethic and flexibility that are compatible with your own. For me, this meant a collaboration in which I can always be honest and which the faster road is not always the one I need to take.

I think one of my biggest concerns going into the CUTF was establishing what my role in the classroom from day to day is. In my regular classes, I enjoy and struggle with jumping into a class discussion with borderline reckless abandon. However, when I sat in on the class as a Teaching Assistant, I quickly adapted to observing more than speaking. Since one of my main roles is to support student writing, I realized that taking note of what the class seemed interested in and with that what sparked their greatest thoughts would be advantageous to utilize when students are struggling with writing their assignments. Occasionally, I provide my thoughts in the class to drive them deeper into thought and discussion–but do so with the deliberate goal of supporting them. While the concept of doing this can be nerve-wracking, practice helps. In addition to practice, it is easiest to learn and adapt to the classroom when I remind myself to slow down and first, think about my goals to support students and where they struggled most in previous classes. It also helps to practice guidance and support outside of the classroom, as I do every day in my role as a Resident Assistant.

In order to be the most useful as an instructor, I strongly advise students to look for professors whose teaching style ignites their curiosity regardless of subject matter. This will not look the same for every student. I, for example, thrive in a class discussion format and enjoy being tasked with big questions that require novel solutions and provoke ideas, while other students may thrive in a lab with empirical evidence or while listening to long lectures on well-proven facts or theories. I think it’s rather intuitive, so students that are interested in teaching should pay attention to the way different teaching styles make them feel. If they’re leaving lectures feeling fresher, more positive then chances are they’ve found the teaching style they should strive to emulate.

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