As a teacher I strive to create an inclusive classroom while fostering active learning, impactful experiences, and historical thinking and empathy.
The higher education landscape is a minefield for students of color, first-generation college students, ESL and international students, and neuro-atypical students. Most college professors are not trained to address the needs of those students. Over the last four years, I have been focused on educating myself on culturally responsive pedagogies, decolonized pedagogies, and feminist teaching practices. I did not get formal pedagogical training in grad school; I learned how to teach by observing my favorite professors, and sought to emulate them when it was my turn in the classroom. And all of my professors from undergrad and grad school were trained up in a system that privileges the white, neurotypical, able-bodied (and male) experience. Though I am a cis-woman in a male-dominated field and department, I am also white, neurotypical, and able-bodied. Without formal training, it has been hard for me to question what I’ve always known and see it for the gatekeeping that it is. Establishing equity in my courses is sometimes easy: making sure that directions or question are legibly displayed in the classroom; making sure I explain what “office hours” are for first-gen college students; or making sure all my assigned readings work with a screen reader. But sometimes it takes more to create a truly equitable experience for my students. For me, it took a complete overhaul of my pedagogical outlook.
Now I work to decolonize my courses, and create more collaborative learning environments in the tradition of feminist pedagogy. I decolonize by de-centering European and colonist experiences in my global history courses (which should be the standard, but is hard for me, a Europeanist trained by other Europeanists, to achieve). I foreground the voices of the indigenous and marginalized, and overturn traditional narratives of subjugation without resistance, European technological and cultural ‘superiority’, and the other residues of social Darwinism and eugenics that linger in higher education today. While I use short, low-stakes assignments like a weekly Timeline to orient students unfamiliar to the course material, and suggest podcasts and textbook excerpts for those seeking greater context, I welcome students who are unfamiliar with European or even World History, because I don’t have to spend as much time helping them unlearn the white supremacist narratives common in “Western civilization” education.
I embrace feminist pedagogy by giving up control in the classroom and turning the space over to the students through role playing games, student-led discussions, and collaborative course building as often as possible. I teach the French Revolution through the Reacting to the Past role playing game, in which students set the agenda for class discussions, take on the roles of moderate, radical, and conservative French politicians and debate citizenship, slavery, women’s rights, and more in revolutionary France. In both my upper-level Witchcraft and Sex, War, and Violence in 20th Century Europe classes, students spend the first week picking the case studies that they want to learn about, and then their selections shape the trajectory of the course. Learning is a collaboration, and students who feel ownership over their learning experience will find it more rewarding and attainable. In the feminist pedagogy tradition, I also seek to disrupt the traditional power dynamics in the classroom by monitoring the time and space taken up by white, cis-male, able-bodied individuals, and seeking to give equal shares to the people of color, as well as women and non-binary individuals, who have often been socialized to be quiet in academic spaces.