School name: Delta State University
Type of school: Regional State University
School locale: Small town, in the Delta of Mississippi (the heart of the blues!)
Classes you teach: General Psychology, Lifespan Development, Educational Psychology, Human Sexuality, and Statistics
Average class size: 20-30
What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?
My biggest fear when I first starting teaching in graduate school was that my students would see right through me. I had a fear that a student would ask me a puzzling question that I would not know the answer to and I would be caught as a fake, the ol’ impostor syndrome at work. I mentioned this fear to my advisor and he told me that there was no way I was going to know everything, and that’s Okay. He told me to not make up some answer just because you feel like you have to, that students will respect you more if you reply with, “I actually don’t know the answer to that, let me write that down, research it, and I’ll get back to you next class,” and MAKE SURE to get back to them. The relief that came with that piece of advice helped me relax into my teaching and let my passion and enthusiasm come through.
What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?
It’s a hard choice between John Dewey’s Experience and Education and Ryan and Deci’s (2000) “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being,” but ultimately I have to go with Experience and Education. Dewey’s description of education and its importance in being a transformative experience instead of just a means to an end constantly reminds me to keep perspective while I am teaching, because at the end of the day what is that I want my students to take away from my class? Concepts, content, and lectures will fade, but opening a student’s mind to critical thinking and the beautiful world of understanding human behavior and thought through psychology is truly transformative.
Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
I absolutely adore teaching Statistics. It’s such a weird mixture of conceptual and procedural learning, and I just love surprising my students with how relevant it is to their everyday lives. So many students come into statistics with math anxiety and a fear of failure. They set such low expectations of themselves and the class and that motivates me to show them that the course really is not so scary. It also continually challenges me to think of different ways to describe complex ideas. Standard deviation may feel like second nature to me now, but I am constantly needing to remind myself of my very first interaction with these topics. It is like learning a new language that can make you lots of money if you get really good at it! Honestly I get so jazzed about statistics I would not be surprised if sometime down the road I get a statistics related tattoo.
Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.
My favorite assignment is one I actually borrowed from the Transformative Experience literature (see Pugh, 2011 and Heddy & Sinatra 2013). It’s called “Use Change Value” or “UCV” responses. I do this about 8-ish times a semester where I ask students to describe how they have seen the course content in their everyday life through three prompts:
1) Discuss how you saw an example of course content in your everyday life.
2) Discuss how seeing that content in your real life experience has changed how you see that topic.
3) Discuss why that experience was/is valuable to you.
I give my students autonomy in letting them choose any course content, and given that psychology is the study of human behavior/cognition and we are all humans, they have a plethora of options to choose from. I find that this assignment is great for facilitating self-relevance so the material usually sticks better, and I get to know more about my students through these prompts. They’re also only 300 words, so it doesn’t become too burdensome for myself or my students.
What’s your workspace like?
I think my office is a reflection of my interests and sense of humor as well as my affinity for psychology. My psych side shows through my skulls, brains, and psych memes on display, but I also have a poster of one of my favorite movies (Army of Darkness) framed above my desk, and a mounted taxidermy bob cat head that I inherited from a bar I worked in during grad school. I spend a lot of time in my office and so I wanted it to be a place that brought me joy as well as a space that didn’t feel as threatening to my students. As a student, walking into offices with a multitude of bookshelves felt so daunting. It was if the bookshelves represented the vast knowledge of my professors that could come crashing down on my little brain at any minute. I keep one bookshelf of what I find to be absolutely essential texts, and the rest reside at home.
Three words that best describe your teaching style.
Enthusiastic, Relevant, Eclectic
What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?
Each student has a unique perspective, address it.
Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.
In graduate school one of my mentors asked me to teach about operant conditioning and shaping in her class so she could observe my teaching and give me feedback. I decided to do an in-class activity on shaping where someone in the class would be sent out into the hall while the rest of the class decided on a behavior they wanted them to do when they returned. Upon returning, using M&Ms, I would reward the student as they performed behaviors that got closer and closer to the desired behavior until they finally performed it. The class chose jumping jacks, which was great and should be easy I figured. It was not. My volunteer just did not get the idea that they had to try different movements in order to be rewarded. Maybe I did not explain the activity well enough, maybe they were shy, but we stood there for 5 awkward minutes while my volunteer made little gyrations and the M&Ms melted in my hand. Finally my mentor saved me and told me that we got the idea and to just move on. I ended up carrying out the rest of the lecture with only a mild amount of sweat and shaking, and it was a very valuable lesson in how your in-class demonstrations may not always make the point you want them to and how you may need to switch things up to get things to work.
What are you currently reading for pleasure?
I am a big horror genre fan, so I am currently reading through some of Stephen King’s more popular titles, and at the moment am on Pet Semetary.
What tech tool could you not live without?
Honestly my LMS, which is currently Canvas. I love the organization, accessibility, and ease of communication. I’m constantly finding new ways to engage with it in meaningful ways with my students.
What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?
Usually it revolves around campus news and activities, but Cleveland is also a very small town, so we will also chat about upcoming social events or trips to bigger cities as well.