I taught my first course at 25. No instruction, just a textbook and a suggested syllabus. On the last day of that course, a student shared a story about the first day: she thought I was pranking everyone when I started introducing myself. She was sure I’d soon start laughing and sit down amongst the other students. She was glad I didn’t. Me too. Honestly, my knees were quaking during that introduction – all adrenaline, a mix of excitement and nerves, and not usually enjoying being the one at the center of large group discussions.
Since then, some things have changed. I found my voice and became more comfortable as a discussion participant and leader. Teaching – through courses, workshops, presentations, and more – has allowed me to explore my interests further, in a semi-structured way, in a communal, supportive environment.
Some things have remained the same. My first class was structured around small, informal groups where students would study a section together and decide on a way of sharing that information – sometimes through acting – with the class during the larger discussion. This is something I still do. This decenters me in the classroom, and opens up space for them to talk directly to one another, sharing their interpretations of the course material through their life experiences and from their perspectives. Larger group discussions help us bring everything together to see the larger picture, and allow for cross-group sharing.
Embedded in this approach are the five commitments central to my pedagogy, and my personhood. First, that we all bring our whole selves to the classroom. We are friends, family members, partners, parents, employees, etc — and students and teachers. Lives are complex; everyone is doing their best. Second, we all have something to bring to the table. We all know some things. We all, always, have much to learn. Good leaders – and teachers – support others in finding their voice, and accept support in finding their own. Third, we teach and learn as a community of teachers and learners; but learning is also about personal, self-recognized growth and development. Self-reflection for gathering one’s own thoughts is as important as group discussions. Fourth, learning is about connections; between each other, between the classroom and the outside world, between the different perspectives of those near are far that make up the world around us and bring it into being. Five, finding ways to open up the classroom is pivotal. Open the classroom so students have options in terms of how they participate in discussions and learn. Open the classroom by bringing in more perspectives and experiences from more sources. Open digital pedagogy has been useful in creating additional venues for students to share information and additional perspectives, and more broadly, cultivate a community of sharing.
In opening up the classroom, I’ve also brought students physically out of the class. Collectively, we have attended exhibits and talks around the city. One of my classes was also engaged in collecting neighborhood narratives from residents in East New York, in conjunction with the organizing efforts by residents in response to the Mayor’s neighborhood rezoning plan. These create new and collective experiences that tighten our own sense of community, bring more experiences to draw on and sift through course material, and in some cases, provide more – tangible – meaning to our class’ efforts.
These commitments are further rooted in an aspirational pedagogical commitment – to realize the classroom as a transformative space. Transformative for students and their learning and being, but also broader ways, towards the goals of public education for and by the public.
*This statement was initially written for an application to the Macauly Honors College Teaching and Learning Colloaboratory Fellowship positions.