Providing supportive mentorship is my goal. I have chosen to be a mentor and a teacher because I believe in — and am a product of — the empowerment and success higher education offers.
My personal experiences as a first-generation university student, an immigrant, and a community college graduate shape how I teach and approach my students. I remember my own struggles, and remain sensitive to students’ non-academic and academic pressures. Students inhabit worlds beyond my classroom. They come into it with pre-existing assumptions, knowledge, and expectations of themselves and the course. They have concerns beyond their grades such as their finances, families, and health. They possess varying abilities and skills, and are products of different experiences, inequalities, and privileges. While my immediate concern is what occurs in the classroom, I take into account how external factors and personal histories influence how students’ academic performances.
This principle of intersecting factors is reflected in my classroom approaches. I begin all my courses with an anonymous survey to gauge my students’ limitations, skills, interests, and needs. I run three of these throughout the semester. I have found this not only allows to students to achieve and maintain good grades consistently, it also increases attendance and my students’ overall enjoyment of the course.
I have also completed faculty training which focused on assisting undocumented students and have organized a Latinx History workshop which focused on decentering colonial perspectives in teaching. Currently, I am running an Oral History Project documenting Northern Illinois University’s 125th Anniversary and am implementing intersectionality into its design in order to highlight the university’s diverse class-based, racial, and gendered experiences.
A common objective threads through all my courses: to show students they are producers of history and culture, as well as products of the past. As a global, transnational historian and a cultural anthropologist I use multi-sensory and diverse materials to show my students how the past is linked to their present and how individuals’ decisions and behavior have intersected, collided, or complied with systems and institutions to create the cultures and present that exist today. In addition to texts, I use material culture, film and photographs, literature, and podcasts to engage students in historical content. For example, in one course we visited an anthropology museum to raise discussions about ethics and colonial histories. I encourage students to produce creative, multi-sensory historical projects. For example, in my World History Since 1500 course, students produced a film and a cooking demonstration, showing how foodstuffs from the Levant and Southeast Asia became integral in European cuisine, and how colonies developed from these gustatory desires. Another student in drew and wrote a comic book account of New Zealand’s colonial history. These assignments did not only reflect these students’ absorption of the material, they also helped other students understand the histories we examined.
Using multi-sensory materials and assignments includes and accommodates students with certain learning disabilities and academic constraints, without singling them out. For example, a student with a hearing disability produced a documentary on sign language and deaf culture. The visual and auditory format allowed them to convey the texture of this culture in a way that text does not. It was eye-opening for the hearing-abled students in this class (myself included) as well as for the student who produced the film.
My goal is to develop an environment students can succeed in, by addressing concrete concerns such as meeting deadlines and absorbing content, and encourage an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration in the classroom. I do this by prioritizing, listening and adapting to student feedback, both what is verbalized and what is not. I have learnt to listen to silence and respond to it. I do this by privileging transparency between myself and my students about my objectives and expectations for them. I am explicit in my syllabi, host Q&A sessions every class session, provide examples of model assignments, and give personalized feedback to each student. I also actively reach out to students who are not thriving or attending class, and find this makes a significant impact on individual students’ success in my courses. Most importantly, I view my students as co-learners. We learn together and from each other.