Teaching Sociology from the Perspective of Sociology GTAs

Teaching is a critical part of being a scholar and it is important to recognize what other teachers have to bring to the table and learn how to craft a classroom that works for you. The four of us were asked to do this blog because we are committed to providing classrooms that provide engaging learning environments for our students. We have a student-oriented pedagogy in that we believe that the best classrooms provide spaces for students to engage and bring their own experiences into the learning environment. Therefore, in this blog we want to address why sociology is so important to teach in undergraduate classes, why teaching sociology is important to us, and how we prepared ourselves for teaching a course through our experiences. We hope that it will shed some light on the inner workings of how we, as teachers, can provide a welcoming classroom for all students.

It is understood that most students in our courses will not become sociologists, or graduate with a degree in sociology. Instead, a closer look at the students enrolled in our sociology courses often reveals a wide range of career goals. With this in mind, teaching sociology becomes an especially important task as professors are afforded the opportunity to educate the next generation of doctors, police officers, social workers, administrators, political leaders, artists, and so on. One of the most important tools taught in our sociology courses is the ability to cultivate a sociological imagination to allow for students to think critically about the social world around us. By equipping students with the skill of applying sociological perspectives to understand how society works, it also provides students with the power to understand steps that are needed for positive social change.

Without a doubt, each of us possesses a passion for sociology and for teaching. Regardless of our individual backgrounds, our desire to expand our own sociological imaginations is something we collectively seek to impart to our students. We each arrived to this space understanding what sociology has done for us—broadening our perspectives of this interconnected social world, affording us ways in which to effectively articulate issues that matter most to us, and providing us space in which to advance social justice awareness and advocacy. As a result, we each strive to provide inclusive learning environments where students engage in active learning in ways that resonate most with their own academic, personal, and professional experiences and goals.

Our range of teaching and professional experience has been gained in a myriad of ways and spans from novice to over 15 years.  Feedback received from mentors and peers during simulated and hands-on teaching experiences helps to build confidence while receiving constructive criticism assists in refining our teaching skills and abilities. Several of us had the opportunity to take Dr. Mike Armato’s Seminar in Teaching Sociology which provided the opportunity to be introduced to the scholarship of teaching and learning. The seminar course allowed us to focus on important aspects of teaching such as developing a teaching philosophy, understanding teaching pedagogy, and the process of developing a course.

Each group of students and course brings with them new interactions that challenge our approach to presenting the materials and provides the opportunity to cultivate our own unique teaching style to the classroom. We also know that sometimes the best thing for future teachers is not to talk about teaching as a concept, but as something practical. So, here is a bit of advice from each of us for people preparing to teach:

Shameika Daye: “Prepare as much as possible, but also give yourself grace. Focus on who you are as an instructor and how you would like that to be reflected in all aspects of the classroom from the syllabus, to the lectures, grading, assignments, etc.  This will give you a great foundation and makes teaching more comfortable when it is authentic to who you are as a person. Know that mistakes happen, activities or assignments may not go the way that you plan, but guess what, it is okay.  You can make it a learning experience not only for yourself but also for your students to show that learning is not just something we do it is a lifestyle that we engage in as we navigate the social world each day. Let go of perfection and enjoy the process!” 

Taylor Devereaux: “Be consistent, be caring, and be yourself! Your classroom should be a space where students know what to expect from both themselves and from you. They should also know that you care about them and are willing to give them grace just like you give yourself. Lastly, you should never pretend to be someone you are not just because you are a teacher. Students know when you are not being yourself, so to make them comfortable, you have to be comfortable as well.”

Madelyn Diaz: “It is one thing to have all of your teaching materials ready to go, these materials should definitely be prepared before the start of the semester. But in my opinion, what makes strong sociology teachers are those who teach with a strong purpose in mind before they enter the classroom. To accomplish this, it is helpful to write out your teaching philosophy statement to organize your thoughts on your individual goals as a sociology teacher and the pedagogical strategies you will use to meet those goals.”

Erin Kidder: “Know that we may share a history, but our biographies within that historical period are quite different. As teachers, we have the privilege of our education and our understanding of our social world from a sociological perspective. We must recognize that most students come to the table with different perspectives based on their own experiences. It is our job to provide students the tools with which to broaden their understanding of the social world in a way that makes the most sense to them.”

We welcome you to teaching here in the UCF Sociology department and wish you the best in your teaching endeavors! We hope that you all enjoy your journey into teaching and learn how to make your classrooms work for you and for your students. As a final note, remember that we, as well as all the faculty and students here in the UCF Sociology department, are here for you. Teaching is not always easy, but more than anything, it is a collective effort, so if you ever have questions or need help, feel free to reach out.

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