As a teacher, I aim to engage my students on their terms: whether drawing out their individual academic interests or framing a lesson plan around a reference to pop culture, I seek to make the past visible and to encourage students to make connections to their own lives. This necessarily involves exploring objects through different lenses, including gender, materiality, postcolonialism, and environmentalism. In one instance when discussing monumentality and displays of Insular stone sculpture at the National Museum of Scotland with first-year art and history of art students, I asked them to tell me why they thought our conversation was important. Students, after a couple minutes of silence, quietly began suggesting parallels between the bringing in of Insular monuments and the debates arising from the destruction of Palmyra and Middle Eastern artefacts, citing the destruction of ancient built environments as an inspiration to undertake displays that preserved the objects while also negotiating a museum’s responsibilities to local communities and history. By reminding students to think about why we discuss the art and material culture of the past, I encourage them to develop their own opinions and participate in various discourses around current affairs. Moreover, student willingness to consider parallels across time and place have encouraged me to incorporate such parallels in all of my courses, challenging chronological and geographical boundaries while demonstrating how thinking differently can expand our knowledge of what we think we know about particular objects.
My teaching experience also extends to working with students from diverse backgrounds and subject areas. My ability to reach different levels of students is seen in the nomination for Outstanding Personal Tutor that I received while I was teaching on the History of Art I course at the University of Edinburgh. From making sure my slides and other material are dyslexic-friendly to offering extra help outside of Office Hours when needed, I always strive to ensure that my courses go beyond the accessibility standards of the university or college of which I am a part. I also seek out appropriate professional development activities that sharpen my teaching and research so that I can better meet student needs. Moreover, my time abroad has given me the ability to speak to diverse viewpoints while interrogating cultural biases in respectful ways that encourage dialogue between different groups and ideologies.
For example, as Student Services Officer and the Internship Faculty at the Edinburgh Centre of Arcadia University, I advised and mentored students while they were abroad. With each student, I sought to encourage them to explore Edinburgh and the university in ways that capitalized on their time abroad. I drew on my experience as an American who lived and studied abroad to encourage students to think about how conversations and experiences in Edinburgh would influence their academic and career goals once they returned to the United States. With my cohorts of interns specifically, I encouraged them to think about how their placements reflected an increasingly globalized outlook in different businesses and how a global outlook impacts local communities. Conversations with students included considerations of Brexit and how it relates to the United Kingdom’s relationship with other countries and is symptomatic of rising nationalistic populism. Drawing parallels to ongoing political events in the United States, I asked students to consider how Brexit also reflected concerns voiced by groups in the United States and how understanding one situation can help facilitate understanding the other. Their willingness to do this was witnessed by several of them looking at Brexit and multiculturalism in the United Kingdom in relation to their placement as their final research project; some students, further, looked at ways what they learned about multiculturalism in the United Kingdom could be applied to their communities at their home institutions. Rather than demonstrating my success as a teacher in encouraging these exchanges, I believe this demonstrates my student’s success in listening to and researching new viewpoints to the extent they felt as if they should find new ways to take these ideas back to their home university.
I also work with students to ensure I incorporate a range of pedagogical approaches so that classwork and discussions appeal to a range of students. For example, I recognize that art is messy, and its history is no different. I encourage students to make a mess, as it were: whether sketching key ideas for studying, writing their essays on notecards and Post-It notes and using a blank wall to shuffle ideas before writing, I constantly encourage students to find what works for them and embrace it. I seek to inspire their confidence with material by meeting them on their terms to develop the necessary skills in presenting and writing about art. If their process is messy and non-traditional, then I not only encourage them to embrace it, but I re-evaluate my lesson plans and wider pedagogy to incorporate it into classroom activities and discussions. For example, in one of my Office Hours, a student expressed her struggles with revising for the end of the year exam and working on her essay. She relayed how she seemed to completely freeze as she tried to jot down everything said in lecture. I asked her if she sketched any part of her notes; she looked at me and said, ‘I can do that?!’ I told her of course, they were her notes. A few weeks later she stayed after class to tell me that she started sketching key objects and key themes when in lecture and researching and was feeling more confident in her work; her newly found confidence was evident in her improved understanding and grades. Because of her success, I now incorporate a sketching activity in my revision classes that tap into students’ creativity and allows them to have fun with the material. With the switch to online and hybrid learning due to COVID-19, I have worked with students to incorporate these activities, having them upload their drawings to class Discussion Boards and using the Zoom Annotate function to do them in class. In courses where I am not working with art students and artists, I have found that the activity still engages student. The poorly drawn, preposterously proportioned, or beautifully rendered sketch serve the same purpose: it gives them ownership of the material and asks them to reinterpret it in their own way. Moreover, it often causes laughter and jokes which serve to further embed the object and key course themes in students’ memories.
For each art history class, I try to have at least one class period in a museum context to encourage students to recognize how art has been framed and reframed out of its original contexts. For Form & Idea at the University of Tampa, I designed a discussion-based lecture on slow looking in order to challenge student ideas on how we look at art. For the accompanying assignment, I asked students to pick an object at a campus or local museum that spoke to them and then observe the object, its surroundings, and how other people looked at their chosen work. The assignment was designed to not only get students out of the classroom, but to think differently about art and their own expectations. Because the students were not art majors, this also served as a way to increase their familiarity with art and museums while testing new skills key to the study of art.
These experiences, and others, have taught me that teaching is not just a matter of presenting facts, but a delicate balance of presenting the key information for students to work with while encouraging discussion, respectful disagreement, and artistic endeavors. From the presentations sketched out as a comic to questions asking for more information, I repeatedly find that my students inspire and challenge me. They inspire my research and simultaneously challenge me to create new ways and topics of engaging them with difficult material that is often overlooked in art historical study.