Teaching Statement

As a lab instructor for introductory psychology and research methods, I see students at two critical points, the beginning and the end of their undergraduate education. My students in introductory psychology are typically freshman, many of whom are non-majors or newly-declared psychology majors on the cusp of deciding whether or not they want to begin or continue with Psychology as their major. My students in research methods are generally upperclassmen, nearing the point where they must decide whether they want to continue on with psychology, either in graduate school or a psychology related field, or to begin a career in a non-psychology related field. Keeping this in mind, I base my teaching philosophy on two key concepts: instilling the enthusiasm I have for Psychology in my students and encouraging them to play an active role in their education. When students become enthusiastic about the topic, they play an active part in their education. Once students are enthusiastic and involved, critical thinking, thoughtful synthesis of their knowledge, and good grades follow suit to encourage the students to realize that they can use their psychology education in every aspect of their life. I achieve the goal of instilling enthusiasm and encouraging an active role in three ways: creativity, flexibility, and constant feedback.


I've learned that many students come into Psychology with the assumption that this topic, much like other topics they've had prior in school, is based upon memorizing facts and concepts, but this is simply not the case. One of the things I make sure to tell my students on the first day is that Psychology is unlike math, English, or any other topic they've had before. Psychology is about studying people, and being people themselves, they already bring in a wealth of knowledge. I keep this in mind when preparing my lessons, spending a lot of time thinking of creative ways to relate the material to everyday experiences. (Some of my favorite examples are displaying a large picture of effervescent Alka-Seltzer to explain the difference between efferent and afferent nerves, or using the 80s song Jenny to explain that phone numbers, like 867-5309, are examples of chunking.) I push students to be creative and involved with their learning as well by encouraging them to bring in outside examples from their lives into class. I'll admit my favorite questions to hear begin with "This might be a bit off topic, but...". Although the question itself might be slightly off-topic, the related conversation is enlightening and worthwhile for the entire class (myself included!) and demonstrates the students' ability to think critically synthesize what they've learned.


Another important part of my teaching philosophy is flexibility. No two classes or students are alike, and this is a crucial fact to understand to be an effective teacher. I've learned that the more time spent planning the specifics of a class, such as scripting word-for-word what I'd like to say, the less likely it is that the class will go as planned. With this in mind, I create my Powerpoints to be talking points that supplement and guide the lecture, rather than a script to read from. When my lessons are not set in stone, the off-topic question that sparks five minutes of important dialogue on another aspect of psychology enriches the class instead of derailing it. On a larger scale, I attempt to be as transparent as possible with my teaching objectives. I never assign anything major in class without putting a lot of thought into the activity, and I want my students to understand that the assignment has a larger purpose. When students understand why I'm doing something in such a way, I've seen more active involvement in the activity or assignment. For example, when I set aside the end of class as a writing workshop, I explain why I think it's useful to exchange and review papers with a partner. Seeing another student's paper allows them to correct a fellow classmate's mistakes and to see how their paper could be written in a different way.

Teaching back-to-back night sections of research methods has taught me that every student is different and it's important to read them and adapt as much as possible within reason to their needs. Many of my students are non-traditional students who work a full day and take care of a family before coming to class. I try my best to understand the different life circumstances that all of my students bring to class and be as flexible as I can to their circumstances. I've found that something as simple as a one-day extension on a paper for a valid reason pays high dividends in the form of enthusiasm and involvement in return.

Constant Feedback

Lastly, I feel that constant feedback from both the teacher and the students is crucial. I begin each class asking students how they're doing in my class as well as in the academic and real world outside of class. At the end of class, I make sure to ask the students if they liked a particular way I introduced a topic or assignment. This allows me to learn from my mistakes and teach more effectively the next time around, as well as change my methods to adapt for the class. Constant feedback coming from the teacher to the students is important as well. I believe that learning is a dynamic and interactive process. I never want the final due date to be the first time I see a paper. The writing process is an important opportunity to learn and I take advantage of that opportunity as much as possible. I encourage my students to send me drafts and ask me questions throughout the writing process. This allows me to point out areas for individual improvement along the way but also to keep a watch on what the class understands as a whole. Teaching two sections of research methods, I've oftentimes found small topics students from one section understood but the other did not. Knowing this along the way permits me to talk about relevant topics that seem unclear to the people who need it most. For example, one section of research methods was unclear of what to list as materials in an APA-style writeup, often listing paper and pencil, instead of the measures used. I was able to re-explain the topic to that section before it was too late. Had I not reviewed drafts along the way, I would have missed the opportunity to teach an important topic until after final papers had been submitted. I again attempted to be as creative as possible, using the childrens' book character Amelia Bedelia as an example and that section has understood the mechanics of the materials section ever since.

In my few months of teaching at George Mason and the opportunities I've had to teach as an undergraduate, I've found that enthusiasm and creativity have been the key aspects for teaching success. My ultimate goal as I begin my lifelong academic career is to encourage students to be as enthusiastic as I am, applying the knowledge they've gained in class to the world around them.