TEACHING PHILOSOPHY & PEDAGOGY

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.

(hooks, 1994, p. 207)

Learning has always been my paradise. This may be an odd statement coming from someone who attended over 30 schools by 8th grade and does not hold a high school diploma. However, it was my schooling that set me on an unexpected path towards becoming an academic. By encountering teachers, and later, professors, who linked theory and content to real-life issues, I was able to view my own life course in a context outside of myself and my experiences. I have now independently taught 17 courses; 10 at the MSW level and 7 at the undergraduate/BSW level, with 4 of those online. With each class I teach, I incorporate the pedagogical social justice perspective that I experienced throughout my educational career.

Image by Fleur

CENTERING TRANSFORMATIVE CRITICAL PEDAGOGY

My primary goal as an instructor is to create a learning environment that promotes an atmosphere of safety in risk-taking while stimulating critical thinking and collaboration in learning. Freire (1972) posits that it is risk-taking that leads to problem solving in education. Approaching course material with a critical analysis and examining the role of power, privilege, and oppression throughout society and within the classroom is essential to the education of practitioners in training, regardless of whether they plan to practice in micro or macro contexts. Students do not enter social work education as empty vessels; they bring experiences, assumptions, and critiques that inform their theories of the world. Framed by Mezirow’s (1990) transformational learning, my commitment to participatory education utilizes collaborative learning and teaching approaches in the classroom. I build on students’ preexisting knowledge, experiences, and identities to support their development of critical thinking and skill building. Therefore, course activities are designed to achieve praxis through a cycle of experience, awareness, reflection, practice, and ultimately, transformation. By providing opportunities for students to develop a critical consciousness of oppression and examine their own roles as oppressor and/or oppressed, I contextualize social work to the lives of my students.

            Despite the promise of these teaching methods, critical pedagogy has been criticized as privileging White perspectives in the classroom, primarily by continuing to center White students and focusing on identity politics (Blackwell, 2010). In order to counter this, I emphasize intersectionality in every course, recognizing that power cannot be explained by one factor. I find that these discussions result in an impactful collective learning experience, one where students are able to see beyond their own identities and genuinely learn from each other.

Birds

PRAXIS

Included in my teaching toolbox is critical arts-based pedagogy, which allows me to make my teaching can be creative, out of the box, and vulnerable. With Dr. Sliva, I supported her teaching using a unique format of circle practice that is typical in restorative processes and echoes Freire’s culture circles (Souto-Manning, 2010). I have incorporated elements from both of these experiences into my own teaching, and they have been essential in my own willingness to take risks in the classroom. I push students out of their routine by incorporating art projects, poetry, and activities, such as those exemplified in the techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed (Boal, 2000), which often include modeling of self, classmates, and other elements of theatre and role-play. I find that many of these activities are also beneficial for students with varying abilities; for example, a student who was hard-of-hearing fully participated in many theatre exercises in a BSW Research Methods course, and a student with low vision in a Grassroots Organizing and Social Justice course took the lead in the use of music and rhythm in the classroom to convey ideas.

Image by Rohan Makhecha

OUTCOMES

Although I have yet to discover a specific formula to induce collaborative, critical pedagogy, I have come to realize that an essential step in reaching this goal is consistent engagement in self-reflection, specifically regarding the idea of control in the classroom. Through this reflexivity, I have identified themes of my willingness or reluctance to cede control, students’ resistance to taking ownership of the classroom, and increasing investment in shared learning. I am also aware that my social identities as a queer, gender fluid, mixed-race, able-bodied person impact the way that I negotiate power and expertise. These identities also influence how I model risk-taking in the classroom. This may take the shape of disclosing aspects of my social identities (when appropriate) as examples of those who hold power and those who are more oppressed. I also hold myself accountable to students: one concrete way this happens is through midterm evaluations, the results of which I discuss with my class.

My teaching evaluations reflect my ability to engage and support students in their learning, as well as facilitating difficult conversations related to power, privilege, and oppression. For instance, my average score on the item “The instructor linked the course content to issues of power, privilege, and oppression” is 5.21 on a scale of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 6 (Strongly Agree). Positive comments include, “Ceema has such a great understanding of PPO issues and her upbeat yet calm demeanor really engaged all students in class discussions and the environments [sic] was always safe. She always encouraged students to email or set up a time outside of class to discuss anything further that we weren’t able to address in class,” and “Ceema is well informed and educated, and she brings a very critical perspective to our class. She models critical thought, which I think is the biggest skill social workers need in this profession. I appreciate her enthusiasm and energy around the material, and it was very clear that she put tons of effort into this course. Thank you, Ceema, for all of your hard work!” While these comments are affirming, I embrace the lifelong endeavor of growing as an educator through risk-taking and professional development.


I am committed to fostering learning environments that equip future social workers to transform the social reality they share with their clients. I use active and creative strategies to incorporate themes of power, identity, and oppression into course content. By moving away from hierarchical models of teaching where the instructor maintains control, I hope to make learning a paradise for all of my students.

References

 

Blackwell, D. M. (2010). Sidelines and separate spaces: Making education anti-racist for students of color. Race Ethnicity and Education, 13(4), 473-494.

 

Boal, A. (2000). Theater of the oppressed. London, UK: Pluto Press.

Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

 

Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Fostering critical reflection in adulthood (pp. 1-20). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

 

Souto-Manning, M. (2010). Freire, teaching, and learning: Culture circles across contexts. New York, NY:  Peter Lang.

APPROACH TO RESEARCH AND MENTORING

My work with students is grounded in anti-racist youth studies research (ARYS). I seek to incorporate interdisciplinary perspectives from the fields of education, public health, public administration, political science, geography, and more to examine how the social constructs of youth and power, impact the lives of young people in the United States. Furthermore, my work is guided by the principals of abolition, critical race theory, and restorative and transformative justice. I use both qualitative and critical quantitative methods in my analysis.  

ADVISING PHILOSOPHY

My advising philosophy is based on my own experience of having multiple advisors and mentors during my college career and graduate program and my current tenure-track position here at the University of Minnesota. I am a social scientist who values interdisciplinary research and I ground myself in anti-racist research and pedagogy. 

 

I enjoy collaborating with colleagues and community members in my work, and seek to include students in my manuscript writing. My goals include supporting students in presenting research findings at conferences as well as publication in peer-reviewed journals. My research agenda includes a range of topics related to youth power and systemic oppression, currently focusing on the school-to-prison nexus and schools as a place of love. I am especially committed to mentoring students in qualitative and critical quantitative research. I have a strong background in qualitative analysis, including grounded theory and phenomenology. I have a basic background in statistical methods and am comfortable in SPSS and Stata. I never rely on quantitative data alone and employ mixed-methods research using critical approaches. 

 

My communication style is direct. I believe that regular check-ins are essential in a mentoring relationship, and appreciate in-person interaction. However, I also understand the need to be flexible. I strive to be available through multiple modes of communication - text, email, Zoom, etc. I don’t check my email during non-business hours, campus breaks or holidays and expect this to serve as a model for the students I work with. 

 

 I am happy to read over abstracts or sections of a paper within an appropriate time frame. I ask that students be specific in their requests and the type of feedback they seek. I am also happy to write letters of recommendation or or supporting documents. I provide tools, such as a research activities inventory, to the students I work with. I expect to receive those, along with a C.V. and a couple of bullet points for discussion, along with any requests for letters.

References


Blackwell, D. M. (2010). Sidelines and separate spaces: Making education anti-racist for students of color. Race Ethnicity and Education, 13(4), 473-494.


Boal, A. (2000). Theater of the oppressed. London, UK: Pluto Press.

Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the

oppressed. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.


Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Fostering critical reflection in adulthood (pp. 1-20). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


Souto-Manning, M. (2010). Freire, teaching, and learning: Culture circles across contexts. New York, NY:  Peter Lang.