As a political scientist, I believe that the goal of good teaching is to foster student engagement in politics as responsible and thoughtful citizens. Three teaching principles serve this goal.
First, good teaching should help students understand the relevance of politics to their lives. Teaching can encourage students to participate in politics only when they know that the theories and concepts discussed in the classroom have a meaning in their daily lives. Therefore, I make every effort to demonstrate the relationship between course material and everyday global, national and local politics. The application of this principle depends on the nature of the subject taught. In some classes, I start with an empirical question related to current issues and push the students to analyze the course material in an effort to solve that question. In other classes, I bring newspaper articles or audio-visual material on world affairs and ask the students to discuss it in the light of the materials covered in class. In yet other classes, I assign case study readings and lead the students to ponder on the cases through the theories taught. The assignments augment the application of this principle. A significant portion of my assignments requires students to relate historical and contemporary issues with course concepts. I have at least one assignment per course that requires the students to follow domestic and global politics.
Second, good teaching should improve students’ critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is crucial for engaged citizenship. It helps students become thoughtful citizens, who can analyze the assumptions beyond their own arguments and those of others, and in so doing it contributes to more nuanced, creative positions in public debates. This is achieved in my classes through guided and open discussion sessions. I challenge the students to help them see how arguments develop, understand what needs to be considered in political conversations, and question their prejudices. My assignments aim to develop students’ critical thinking skills. In all my courses, I give writing assignments through which students can critically engage with the class material. Depending on the size and nature of the class, these assignments can take the form of reaction papers, short essay questions, short papers, or research papers. I ask the students to synthesize from multiple sources, to identify various aspects of the issue at question, to develop an argument of their own, and to evaluate counter-arguments to theirs.
Third, good teaching should provide the students with a comfortable learning environment, in which they can freely exchange their ideas. This increases students’ engaged citizenship by enhancing their respect for diverse opinions. By “learning environment,” I do not mean only the classroom. I mean the relationship between instructor and students broadly defined. I believe that it is the instructor who can energetically frame this relationship as a dynamic, comfortable, and productive one. My experiences have taught me the importance of energy, determination, adaptability, empathy, trust, patience and a good sense of humor in creating a stimulating learning environment. When students feel the instructor is approachable and has their best interests at heart, they will more frequently be involved in class discussions, and they will seek out assistance if they are struggling.