I arrived at Brooklyn College in Fall 2005, the autumn of Katrina. I was horrified that anyone thought I was such a generalist that I could teaching Euripides’ Medea, let alone advanced Latin. As the product of the Oxford system, I arrived with a high degree of specialization and little understanding of my own capacity for teaching the breadth of the discipline of Classics as it manifests in liberal arts curricula today.
I found my way largely though the confidence and mentorship of my senior department members and my own capacity for systemization—to set a goal, determine the necessary steps to achieve that goal, and then both articulate and implement that plan. Much of my previous development as an educator is evident in my earlier “Educational Philosophy”.
Today, my educational philosophy is much shorter.
- Meet the students where they are.
- Listen to where they want to go.
- Offer my experience and expertise as resources, and if these are insufficient, help identify further opportunities for assistance.
There are some underlying assumptions behind these three principles:
You can’t teach if you’re not present. This can mean being physically present. Consider the picture of my office on the cover of this document. It’s a space in which I can do all the parts of my job: teaching preparation, research, administration, mentoring, and collaborating with other faculty. However, often being on campus is a challenge and sacrifice for our students. One of the most powerful tools of the digital age is the video conference with screen sharing. It can put me in the space where my students need me to be.
Not all our students arrive with the same life experiences, opportunities, or abilities. It does no good to talk “over” or “down to” any one. It is my responsibility to join the conversation where they able to do so. This is not about lowering standards. Instead, I am seeking complete transparency of expectations, and to create the greatest possible access to educational resources. I want to maximize what we as can do as a whole college community to empower individual students to meet the standards of our courses and degree programs.
My two favorite questions to ask via an online survey at the beginning of each semester are:
- Besides academics, what is your most significant time commitment?
- What is your biggest goal after college?
Our students are the ones who define their own benchmarks for success, both in college and beyond. Unless we take time to understand where Brooklyn College and our individual courses intersect with their short term, medium term, and long term objectives, our ‘instruction’ and ‘help’ are in danger of being superfluous, or even a hindrance. Imposing our own value systems may reduce our academic ‘rigor’ to merely jumping through hoops.
My talents are not limited to nuanced methodology for reading fragmentary historical documents from two millennia ago or the decoding of numismatic iconography. I’m not afraid to teach a student about how to organize their notes in classes, cope with an inability to buy textbooks, or phrase a request for a schedule change from their boss. As an educator, I believe my role is to find the most effective means of communicating the most necessary information for my students. This knows no disciplinary bounds.