My teaching philosophy reflects my own early experiences. I grew up in an ethnically and racially diverse neighborhood on Long Island, New York, attended public schools, and shared in the advantages and unfortunate paradoxes typical of working class communities. Despite the constant interaction of neighbors with very different ethnic and cultural origins, bigotry pervaded the local schools and institutions. Raised in a household that eschewed these views, I realized that my future path would involve understanding and teaching about the persistent historical trends of racism and its impact on black, brown, and white America.
Most importantly, I aim to inspire students to recognize their common humanity. In my first class, we discuss what it means to be human and part of different communities. I use this discussion as a launching point into why we study history. In the following sessions, I want each student to walk away from class with a tangible historical concept, fact, or narrative that they could incorporate into their own experiences in order to facilitate a deeper understanding of their own humanity and the larger world around them. In my classroom, students see history as both an intellectual and civic exercise. While this seems like a self-explanatory teaching goal, as we all know inspiring students can prove to be quite a difficult task that many times becomes a secondary or even tertiary consideration. All of the other teaching goals stem from this core principle.
I have several practical approaches to foster these goals. First, my classes utilize a wide array of images and primary sources to draw out the dynamic processes and trends that have unfolded throughout early American history. At the same time, I recognize varying styles of learning (student-led, autonomous, project-based, auditory, visual, etc.) and thus incorporate different teaching objectives, including collaborative presentations utilizing maps, art, music, and film. I also assign multiple sources—many times contradictory—that highlight or illustrate the issues discussed during class. Here, the Internet holds an abundant array of choices for students. By carefully and judiciously providing well-designed websites for my classes (museums, national historic sites, primary source archives, etc.), I allow students to enter historical debates with a sense of autonomy and creativity unavailable in a textbook (although many newer textbooks are beginning to perform similar tasks).