“That life is complicated is a fact of great analytic importance”
Patricia Williams, “The Alchemy of Race and Rights”
I start with an opening quote from Avery Gordon’s Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (1997) in recognition of an invariable complexity of each student’s lifeworld, which shapes my teaching philosophy in two profound ways. First, I believe that every individual is capable of achieving their top academic goals, given a motivation and a favorable environment. Second, I believe higher education is a public good, which yields a set of benefits to the society that extend well beyond the educated individual. Two core values conjointly inform my teaching: helping each and every student succeed regardless of their life circumstances and working towards making the University a more just and equitable place, with respect and opportunity for all. I strive to create inclusive learning environments by focusing on accessibility, diversity, mentorship, collaboration, and soliciting student feedback.
Recognizing the steep physical and structural barriers that prevent students from participation is key to fostering inclusion. My efforts with accessibility encompass a number of steps. First, I provide a clearly structured overview of the course, with detailed descriptions of all deliverables and learning outcomes expected from students, and the criteria by which they will be graded. This helps reduce end-of-semester anxiety and improves the quality of student work, as the expectations are clearly articulated. Second, I allow for a variety of means of classroom participation. Students can participate in classroom discussions, respond to and ask questions through in-class writing, or post their comments on a specifically designated Twitter page. These activities provide an opportunity for each student to contribute to class discussions through the medium they are most comfortable with. Finally, I draw from universal design to render all of my teaching materials (syllabi, assignments and slides) in accessible formats, and make them available to students in advance.
I view diversity through the prism of intersectionality, understanding that universal solutions can at times be detrimental to marginalized and underrepresented students. For this reason, I approach each student on a case-by-case basis, seeking to provide guidance and support to those who need it. Over the past years, I have had students cope with complicated health issues, loss of a loved one, financial struggles, mental health crises, and care responsibilities – each of these circumstances, or their combination, can create overwhelming obstacles to their effective learning. Understanding the interplay of personal and systemic factors that can hamper student success helps me support students to achieve their top academic goals. This is when small (but calculated) teaching moments serve to create safe and inclusive learning environments. Such instances take shape by encouraging students to say their personal pronouns at the round of introductions, taking a minute to decipher acronyms for international students, and making sure persons of colour and women are represented on my syllabi.
Over the past ten years, I have worked in and across five countries (Ukraine, Poland, Sweden, Canada, and the United States), where I was privileged to have had excellent mentors that crucially contributed to my achievements in academia. Since that time, I have made it my personal responsibility to share information and resources on academic and professional opportunities within my networks, which include past and current students. I am devoted to mentorship because I resolutely believe fostering resilient and hard-working individuals will have substantial effect on their future career outcomes. This is especially true for women from minority backgrounds: for the past four years, I have volunteered for BA Rudolph Foundation, a Washington-DC based non-profit that provides funding and mentorship opportunities for women who secured unpaid internships in the public sector. Since 2016, I have served as a Chair of Application Review Committee for their Graduate Public Service fellowship and reviewed hundreds of applications to help launch careers for aspiring public servants from underrepresented backgrounds.
Contemporary cultural landscapes call for the development of critical digital literacies, andcollaboration plays an important role in fostering students’ understanding of mediatized environments. In my classroom, I try to incorporate a multi-layered approach to pedagogy, which includes discussion, groupwork, critical essay writing, and research. Some of the activities students engage in during and outside of class are mediated: I use Blackboard and Twitter to facilitate online discussion outside of class, Participoll for interactive in-class polling of the student audience, and wikis to encourage students to engage in collaborative knowledge production. Students often reflect on this as a meaningful learning experience. I also use sociological imagination as a guiding principle of explaining complex phenomena. Students truly understand the main theories and methods presented in class when they are able to tap into their own experiences, as well as connect the studied topics to current processes and events. Many of my classroom examples are drawn from popular culture, contemporary art or interactive data visualizations that encourage interesting discussions with a diversity of viewpoints.
Every semester, I conduct at least one formative evaluation (administered anonymously online) to see if my pedagogy is effective and solicit student feedback regarding the quality of instruction and the complexity of the reading materials. So far, this practice has helped me adjust the pace of the class and modify a number of written assignments to better meet learning objectives. I also conduct a summative evaluation at the end of each semester to improve the course for the following semesters. This year, in light of an overwhelmingly positive feedback from students and my faculty mentors, I have been nominated to receive an Outstanding Teaching Assistant award for teaching excellence and a distinguished contribution to Syracuse University.