The program extends its congratulations to Christine Rosenfeld who was recognized through Mason's Stearns Center 'Thank-a-Teacher' Program. Rosenfeld was identified by Mason students as an inspiring teacher who made a difference in their lives. Esma Celebioglu conducted a short interview with Christine Rosenfeld to learn more about her teaching experiences. See her responses below.
You have been identified by Mason students as an inspiring teacher who made a difference in their lives. So, could you tell us a bit about your teaching philosophy?
My goal as a teacher is to inspire confidence in students. I try to do this by identifying a strength or passion a student has and attempt to cultivate it and even more so, I try to give them knowledge of how to grow it, which results in a confidence boost.
For instance, it might be that a student keeps mentioning the same topic in class again and again, whether it’s a topic they are deeply passionate about, or related to a formative experience they had. I encourage them to follow that passion in their assignments and class discussion. I believe it’s OK for students to start with a topic they are comfortable with and then part of my job is to give them the knowledge and skills to expand beyond their initial level of comfort and understanding. My end goal after working with students is that they develop pride over their work, their knowledge, and their skills.
I also want students to gain something useful and/or rewarding out of the class they take with me. This might be acquiring a practical skill or learning about a new topic, which shows students that knowledge just for knowledge’s sake is gratifying. Students take college classes at different points in their lives for different reasons with a variety of resources available or not available to them. Therefore, I do my best to accommodate this fact by assessing students in multiple ways and creating flexible assignments so that they can hone in on what will provide them with the best outcome, given the parameters of the particular course.
How does your academic background, your cultural studies formation contribute or challenge your teaching experience?
Being a graduate student, I always have an eye toward research method, and in my quest to expand my comprehension of methods of inquiry, I find myself trying to incorporate methods into the undergraduate courses I teach. For instance, showing some photos of old sugar export records from the basement of an archive to explain how researchers make certain claims. I’ve found that many students don’t think about the step of research that asks how data is retrieved and claims are made, but rather, there is a tendency to automatically accept claims presented by authors. Explaining “the how” to students allows me to have a conversation with them about the importance of not accepting claims without interrogating them. This is a way to show what critical thinking and critical reading really looks like and why it is important.
My experience as a tutor has definitely inflected my tendencies as a teacher. I do my best to create mini-one-on-one learning environments for students, which is something I have the liberty of doing as a tutor, but can be more challenging in the classroom. I try my best to recreate some of this in the classroom by getting to know my students so I can direct them to project topics and practicing/acquiring particular skills that they are most passionate about and/or that will serve them the best given their specific goals.
And my Cultural Studies background, in addition to my training in Geography, means that I often arrange content around text and context, being sure to delve into the “why this, why now” of cultural objects and social phenomena.
What kind of methods do you use to motivate the students? Do you have any techniques you use to make your class more engaging for students?
Names! I learn every student’s name as fast as I can because I want to be able to have a dialogue with each student so that they know I care about them as an individual as well as a member of the class. This is one way I try and build trust and rapport with my students from the start, which I do feel motivates them to be engaged in the course and feel an accountability to putting effort into their course experience.
I will also connect the concepts to students’ own experiences when I can, but to do this, I have to first take the time to really get to know the students, by learning their names and talking with them before and after class.
Oftentimes, I offer an anonymous survey halfway through the semester asking for feedback on class, discussion, and assignments, giving the students a chance to share with me what is and what is not working. I take that data and share it back with the class indicating how I’ve incorporated it into the rest of the semester, pending that I am in a position to accommodate their requests. I think this helps equalize the power differential between the teacher and the students, and again, gives students some sense of ownership and pride over the course, translating into a more engaged experience.
What did you find the most difficult and the best aspect of teaching?
For me, the most difficult aspect of teaching is being fair while also being reasonable. These two things often go hand in hand, but when they don’t is when teaching presents me with the most challenges to navigate.
The best aspect of teaching is when you look into a sea of students and see a glazed over face switch to an engaged, present one. Seeing how a certain topic or story you tell can pique the interest of someone is gratifying and one of the things that propels me towards a career in teaching. Relatedly, seeing this interest and/or passion come alive through the written work—through the tone, the writer’s voice, and the care put into crafting a proper paper—especially of students who tend to be pretty quiet in class, always brings a smile to my face. Being given the opportunity to encourage students to develop skills and passions they already have or didn’t know they wanted/needed, is what I look forward to every time I start a new class.
September 24, 2017