Fostering Personal Connections
What excites me about teaching? Everything! The magic that happens in the classroom is completely dependent upon the people in the room, so it doesn’t matter how many times I have analyzed a certain historical document – there is always something new to discover with a different group of students. Their engagement and my enthusiasm feed off each other to spark an energy in the space. When those metaphorical light bulbs go off because students come to understand something on a deeper level, it is the best feeling in the world.
I love to teach 20th-century U.S. history because it is so immediately relevant to understanding our current world. We can only comprehend current political, cultural, economic, and international relations issues if we know some of the historical context – which means that reading a speech, viewing a piece of propaganda, or listening to a song from 100 years ago can unlock a hidden layer of meaning in something we see every day around us. For that reason, historical thinking is like a superpower!
One of my favorite topics is the history of sexuality because it provides such a clear avenue for proving that everything has a history – even things we think of as “natural” are profoundly shaped by society and are differently expressed and interpreted according to place and time.
At DePauw, we foster personal connections so that students feel supported in growing intellectually and expanding their horizons. The world gets so much bigger when you are in college, and it’s our job as faculty members to expose you to that bigger world and challenge you not to retreat to what you know. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had deep and meaningful conversations with students in my office or after class that started with a comment based on the day’s readings but ballooned into hour-long “meaning-of-life” conversations. That’s why we do this! When you have that one-on-one connection with your professors, you get so much more out of the college experience.
For me, the foundation for being able to push students to think more critically is creating a strong community bond in our classroom. Humor and getting to know each other can encourage students to be vulnerable in the way that is necessary for stretching their intellectual boundaries. Through close reading, research, and probing discussion, we explore the complex past together and expand our simplistic ideas about history. One of my mottoes is ABC: Always Be Complicating! There is no simple memorization of facts in my classes; we learn how to be analytical thinkers so that students become smarter for the wider world they enter after graduation.