Teaching Philosophy

     To be a successful anthropologist, one must recognize the cultural biases that we bring to all encounters in our research. Similarly, a teacher must recognize the ways that their own educational foundations have shaped their teaching style and scholarship. We are flawed instruments, whether collecting data in the field or imparting knowledge in the classroom, and I believe that embracing the biases created by our own histories creates a learning environment that accommodates the diverse students with whom we work.

     While I have had the opportunity to teach classes at a large research university and small liberal arts college, the experience I have had outside of the academy continuously influences my teaching style. My first experience teaching was as an instructor for the Green Collar Environmental Training Program. This was a federally funded project spearheaded by Amigos de los Rios, a not for profit organization I worked for. As project assistant, I helped to develop the curriculum and was one of three instructors conducting classes twice a week at a Conservation Corps facility in Los Angeles. We certified five classes worth of participants during the pilot program’s first year, and were working to place them in jobs in the green sector. Of the many young people we worked with that year, it is the first group that I vividly remember. The first day of the course, we took the whole group of 32 students to the Angeles National Forest to show them the origin of the Los Angeles River. When we arrived, we realized that not one of them had ever traveled the 29 miles from their neighborhoods in South Los Angeles to the forest. No one wanted to participate in the planned activities. They all wanted to listen to the stream and look around the woods, and generally explore this entirely foreign environ. We had prepared every detail of the certification course, yet had taken a foundational piece of information for granted. I bring this memory into the classroom with me, and remember that each student’s history shapes the manner in which he or she will best learn.

     The experience of teaching students in the field also influences my approach to teaching anthropology. Common wisdom states that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and this was particularly true for me the first time I taught students in my field site. Discussing concepts that they had learned in the classroom in this context created incredible teaching moments, during which I saw their understanding of gendered roles shift while working in the kitchen with women, and saw them realize that kinship is more than tortuous rote memorization as they worked with local collaborators to map kin groups in the village. Perhaps the most amazing process to watch was the villagers going from being exotic indigenous people living in huts to being just people and friends. This experience influences the way that I teach anthropology in the classroom in two ways: first, I work to contextualize methods and concepts that are new into tangible, familiar situations; and second, I use ethnographies about the U.S. to exoticize the everyday. The latter proves very successful in my Introduction to Anthropology course. I use Boulanger’ Reflecting on America (2008) as a complement to a general cultural anthropology text, and it gives students an opportunity to rethink the role of culture in their lives. I contextualize new anthropological concepts by arranging “mock-ups” in the classroom. For example, in a class session of about 25 students that covered social stratification and the ways that community-based development projects, I handed out cards that had different attributes. Each student received a card that said “poor,” “indigenous,” “speaks Maya,” “speaks Spanish,” “literate,” “land-less,” and “owns a car.” I divided the students into four groups and asked which group both speaks Spanish and can read, then asked which group is poor. Through this activity, they were able to understand how the perception of a community can vary depending on the questions asked. This is just one example of the ways that I create an active learning environment in the classroom. In my experience, activities that physically move students while teaching engage them with the content and create a heightened sense of belonging in the classroom.

     Working with students with few educational opportunities in the Green Collar program and teaching in the field certainly shaped the teacher that I am today, and I developed varied approaches to that are continually being refined. I believe that to assume that one method of disseminating and explaining a particular topic will be appropriate for all students is to assume that all students are the same. I am instead a proponent of employing a variety of methodologies in the classroom in addition to lecturing, and of maintaining a certain level of flexibility. These include team-based discussion groups, incorporation of film and photography into class materials, and student-led reading presentations.

     My early academic path was winding, and the experience of being a sometimes-unsuccessful student is the foundation of my passion for teaching to all of the students in the class by using varied techniques and requiring a variety of assignments to give each student the opportunity to shine. This foundation similarly drives my own lifelong learning. Whether researching in the field or preparing for a class session, I see myself as a teacher, researcher, and learner. Through my teaching, I want to instill in students this desire to grow as lifelong learners long after they leave my classroom.

The following is a list of courses I have taught or assisted.