School name: Rutgers University
Type of school: Research-driven (R1) urban university
School locale (including state and country): New Jersey, U.S.
How many years have you taught psychology? 5
Classes you teach: Social Psychology, Health Psychology
Average class size: 15-25
What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? Oddly, the best advice about teaching (and learning) I received was from my high school chemistry teacher. He described struggling with chemistry in college although he loved the subject. When professors used to post non-anonymized grades, he realized he could not only see who the top performing students were but also learn from them. He waited for A-earning students to see their grades and asked them if he could study with them. He learned their habits and learned from them. At the time, he was spinning a tale about growth mindset, showing his students that they could grow over time with better strategies learned from others (something I also emphasize in my courses). Now, I’ve come to see this as an essential part of teaching as well. He was such a powerful teacher, one who could describe complex content in multiple engaging ways to maximize student understanding. It made me realize that struggling with material sometimes is normal, makes us stronger learners, and makes us better teachers because we’re better able to understand students struggling with the material and problem-solve with them.
What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Given the story above, it may be unsurprising that the research behind growth mindset has been probably the most pivotal in shaping my teaching philosophy, including Dr. Carol Dweck’s “Mindset”. I also get excited about evidence-based practice, so Dr. Paul Kirschner and colleagues’ work on myths in education and learning as well as how learning happens has also greatly informed my instruction. For years, I was an educational coach, and I preached learning styles not knowing that there is little to no evidence for them—ah!
Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. As a researcher in self-regulation (and a former educational coach and health coach), I really enjoy teaching about strategies students can use to meet their goals and improve their everyday lives. I love thinking that they can add healthier, research-based tools to their toolboxes to use during the class and after it’s over.
Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. I love media, so most of my favorite in-class activities center around watching videos and dissecting them with students. I randomly watched PBS’s “Stress: Portrait of a Killer” with my parents in high school, which got me interested in health and social psychology, and I never looked back. I created a watch guide for the film with an accompanying assignment on students’ experience with stress for health psychology, and I really appreciate students’ responses to that assignment.
What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I love a good discussion. I felt like I learned the most from discussions when I was in school, so I try my best to generate discussion questions (or use some of those provided by generous others) that can be fruitful for students. As an instructor, I love that discussions become a window into students’ experiences, which helps me to shape future questions, examples, or even different subjects.
What’s your workspace like? A work in progress! In the wake of the pandemic, I upgraded our office, adding a sit-to-stand desk, a second screen (joining the 21st century), and some tall bookcases. I also added a small art wall above my desk of my embroidery work and small artwork I bought or was gifted over the years. Hoping all of these efforts increase my productivity as well as boost my mood.
Three words that best describe your teaching style. Positive, inclusive, active
What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Evidence-based, student-centered, learning-focused
Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. My first teaching experience was leading a statistics lab as an undergraduate junior. One week, instead of emailing the worksheet to students, I sent them the worksheet with the answers. I thought something felt off as students exchanged glances... I thought maybe these problems were too challenging or maybe too easy, and they were trying to say that without saying it. So, after 5 minutes (was it 10? It felt like FOREVER), I reminded them I was here to help as they worked through the practice problems. One brave student let me know I had sent them the answers. I was mortified, especially because I’d have to tell my supervising professor about my error.
I am pretty proud of my quick response, though. My immediate reaction was to swear them all to secrecy and ask them to tip toe out of the classroom like nothing happened. Then, I realized I did them a big disservice in providing the answers before they could work through the problems. So, I thanked the student, joked about the looks I had noticed, gave them all full credit, and explained how they could use that resource to their advantage by using it to check their answers rather than not doing the work at all. I asked everyone to stay for at least half the lab time so they could actually give themselves a chance to test their stats prowess—most actually stayed until the end and were grateful for seeing the answers step by step!
What about teaching do you find most enjoyable? I love seeing the light go on in students’ eyes when they connect with something. I know grading can be a drain, but some of my favorite teaching moments are reading reflections and noticing how each student relates to the content just a little differently.
What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I’m not sure! I’m pretty transparent. I tell them my journey to teaching/academia is not linear, but I don’t go into a lot of detail about all the detours I took, like my brief stint as a belly dancer.
What are you currently reading for pleasure? I just finished the last book of the Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin as well as Atomic Habits this past week. I try to switch between a book related to my work and something fun, like sci-fi or fantasy. I think next is “Willpower doesn’t work” and “The end of Men”.