I encourage students to become not only consumers of information but better citizens and active critical thinkers. To achieve this I center my teaching on providing analytical tools that can be used widely or beyond the classroom setting. My objective here is to teach students how personal troubles are related to public issues by always locating the biographical aspects of the students within the changes in social structures. To accomplish this we constantly analyze cultural artifacts such as, but not limited to, cinema, newspapers, personal narratives, and other numerical data. I do not, however, avoid complex theories, as these are the core of the knowledge presented. Instead of just lecturing about complex theories or “teaching at” students, I support them to reach their own conclusions about these theories as a way of promoting a well framed analysis of the social world. I welcome their questions, ideas, and personal analysis about class topics and I encourage them to related classroom activities and information to their own experiences and everyday lives. My teaching philosophy is based on four pillars: a) Interdisciplinarity; b) Cultural flexibility; c) Scholarship; and d) Confluence of theory and praxis.
I integrate an interdisciplinary perspective by analyzing concepts, historical and current events, and processes from multiple perspectives in the social sciences focusing on the importance of understanding each topic holistically. This implies integrating the different approaches and going beyond simply presenting material from different disciplinary perspectives. For example, in race and ethnicity I present my analysis of contemporary racial structures by integrating the historical processes, political conditions, economic and demographic effects, and the social constructions created and maintained by various groups that have created racial structures.
Cultural flexibility is very important in my teaching. I use my life experiences to explain how concepts and themes are understood in different social and historical contexts. At the same time, I encourage students to do the same by locating their analyses within the intersection of history and biography. To understand student’s academic interests and learning goals I have used as assessments the construction of sociological biographies and—using Bourdieu’s term—self analysis. Getting to know my students, their current and past experiences, as well as their and future goals and dreams has allowed me to avoid teaching from rigid structures and to understand teaching as a practice and process of continuous exchange between the student and instructor.
I also incorporate the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as a constant reflection of teaching practices and students’ learning practices, processes that are needed in order to improve learning outcomes. Learning about SOTL has made me a better instructor as I continuously engage in thinking about the implications of the syllabi and how teaching methods shape the ways students learn. I applied this to a Historical Methods courses. In that class, students had to write weekly reflection journals analyzing how cinema helped in developing understandings of historical processes in Latin America as well as the complexities of using different sources and temporalities in historical analysis.
Finally, I create opportunities to engage students in joining Theory and Praxis by developing small research projects, analyzing data, and interpreting original sources, as well as using concepts to develop analytical capacities and reach well-reasoned, justifiable conclusions. I encourage student to reflect on the social and historical nature of their own lives, teaching them to reflect critically on contexts and lead them to rethink what they are learning. When I have taught courses on population, for example, one assignment is to develop a paper analyzing real demographic data and the policy implications of that analysis. I also ask them relate macro-demographic changes to changes in the life of their families and communities. As a future project I intend to have students construct demography based oral histories of family or community members.