Teaching: Philosophy and Methods

My approaches to teaching Classics have undergone many revisions, refinements, and transformations throughout my career as a teacher. I entered the profession in an independent high school setting, where there was a great deal of focus on grades as a tool to generate competitive college applications. As a new teacher, I felt my primary responsibility was to impart students with the necessary knowledge to make grades on quizzes, tests, and AP exams. Over my time in this position, as my knowledge of Latin, Greek, and ancient literature improved through teaching them, I quickly came to appreciate first how much further my expertise in Classics needed to develop if I were to be a truly effective teacher. This strong desire to do justice to the material I taught was the primary motivation for my pursuing graduate degrees in the subject.

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Photograph of yours truly taken by a Latin 203 student at Duke University, Spring 2018

As a graduate instructor I saw my students achieve positive outcomes (and received some highly favorable evaluations), but I also realized that the effectiveness of my instructional methodology could not be purely a function of my own expertise at reading ancient sources. This realization, in turn, pushed me to focus more on my own pedagogy and reflect on how to perform this vital role in a way that creates meaningful learning experiences for as many students as possible. As a junior faculty member, while supervising teaching assistants and mentoring graduate instructors, I have made a point of discussing my own journey as a teacher and encouraging them to be thoughtful and reflective in their approaches. Every teacher must figure out the specific set of tools that work best for them, but in my experience and with my graduate students I have found a balance of research-based literature, observation, feedback, and discussion that has helped in their ongoing development as instructors, along with my own.

 

​ A fundamental transformation in my thinking about teaching has been a shift from trying to impart knowledge of Latin, Greek, and/or ancient history to seeing my role as creating the conditions for students to construct their knowledge of the subject. This shift came as a result of several factors—the Certificate in College Teaching that I earned during my PhD program, my work with a mentor as part of the Preparing Future Faculty fellowship, my own mentoring, participation in a junior faculty pedagogy learning group, and my own improved sensitivity to my students’ learning processes as I acquired more time in the classroom. My teaching approaches have evolved along with this improved understanding, and my courses have become increasingly oriented towards active learning in which students work with material in a range of different contexts and formats. Evaluations from students, including a recent award nomination, suggest that these approaches have been effective in raising levels of student engagement and perceived outcomes. On the basis of my syllabus design (viewable here), in 2019 I received a Bass Instructional Fellowship from the Graduate School at Duke University.

In language classes I structure classroom lessons around interactive group exercises. In elementary level courses, these include carefully selected student teaching assignments in which a small group takes responsibility for part of the day’s lesson and delivers a lecture with accompanying activities and assessments. In intermediate and advanced courses, I assign students periodic short papers in translation, reflection, and response with paragraphs on the translation process and their opinion on each text’s contents. When preparing to explain the material to their classmates and describe their experience working with it, students gain a fuller appreciation of different levels of understanding and the processes by which they can effectively learn new ideas. I accompany these assignments with reflections and discussion to encourage metacognitive development and make the purpose of these assignments as transparent as possible so that students can feel like true stakeholders in their own learning.

Another important component of these courses is active use of the target language, which I elicit in a variety of ways. The structure of the day’s lesson, including greetings and basic directions to students, is presented in both written and spoken Latin or Greek, and we frequently use visual media for students to review by describing images and animations using recently learned vocabulary. Students also engage in dialogue with each other, using clearly scaffolded conversational structures to exchange details about themselves (such as biographical information or their preferences in popular media) and then relate such details about their partner to the rest of the class. Longer-form assignments include multi-step group translation exercises (in which students translate back and forth several times between English and the target language, which they often find surprisingly enjoyable) and composition of short stories with several steps of revision and peer feedback. Through these activities, students can make the ancient language their own.

Intermediate and advanced language

Developing as a Teacher

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Reviewing the third conjugation, Latin 1001 at the University of Cincinnati, Fall 2019

Courses in Classical civilization, with translated ancient texts, present different opportunities to explore both textual and material sources from the ancient world. In classroom settings and online, I emphasize group discussion and low-stakes written work as venues for students to experiment with the ideas they encounter throughout the course. In online courses, students interact through discussion forums and exchange reader responses; in the classroom, students collaborate in small groups to consider different forms of evidence in tight focus. In my Roman Civilization course, for example, I used reproductions of Roman coins to give students a hands-on perspective on the iconography of propaganda during the late Republic, complementing the literature survey around which the course was built. In my Cinema course, groups of students learned how to use reference materials and deliver mini-presentations that contrasted traditional myths with films they inspired. These activities may take as little as ten minutes, but by regularly practicing these interactions students grow more comfortable sharing their perspectives and responding in a productive manner to their classmates.

 

These peer interactions are balanced by regular low-stakes response pages in which students develop and support ideas from the assigned readings. They respond to one text, then read one text against another—for example, Parmenides’ theories versus Homeric themes of destiny. Next, they compare a text to something outside of the class, such as parallels that one student saw between Antigone and Greta Thunberg, and end by revisiting an earlier response, reflecting on their progress and how they would approach the same material at the end of the course. In this exercise, students gain familiarity with the subject matter and hone their skills for making arguments succinctly, while gaining metacognitive insight into their own learning process.

Pedagogy for Classical civilization

Courses Taught

Collegiate Level

University of Cincinnati

(courses in 2020-2021 were delivered remotely due to institutional COVID-19 protocols)

Classics 2011: Classics and Cinema (Spring 2021 - Syllabus here)

Greek 1002: Intensive Ancient Greek II (Spring 2021 - Syllabus here)

​Greek 1001: Intensive Ancient Greek I (Fall 2020 - Syllabus here)

Classics 1001: Greek Civilization (Fall 2020 - Syllabus here)

Classics 1002: Roman Civilization (Spring 2020 - Syllabus here)

Latin 1002: Intensive Latin II (Spring 2020 - Syllabus here)

Latin 1001: Intensive Latin I (Fall 2019 - Syllabus here)

Classics 1021: Mythology (Fall 2019, online - Syllabus here)

Duke University

Instructor of Record
Latin 102: Elementary Latin II (Spring 2019)

Latin 101: Elementary Latin I (Fall 2018 - Syllabus here)
Latin 203: Intermediate Latin (Spring 2018 - Syllabus here)
Greek 102: Elementary Ancient Greek II (Spring 2017 - Syllabus here)
Greek 101: Elementary Ancient Greek I (Fall 2016 - Syllabus here)

Teaching Assistant

Greek 102: Elementary Ancient Greek II (Spring 2016) William A. Johnson, Instructor

Greek 101: Elementary Ancient Greek I (Fall 2015) William A. Johnson, Instructor
CLST 308: Greek and Roman Law (Fall 2014) Joshua D. Sosin, Instructor

 

Florida State University

Instructor of Record

LAT1121: Beginning Latin II (Fall 2012, Spring 2013)

Teaching Assistant
CLT3501: Women and Society in Ancient Greece (Summer 2012, Online) James Sickinger, Instructor

CLT3378: Ancient Mythology East and West (Spring 2012) Elizabeth Richey, Instructor

Secondary Level

Johns Hopkins University

Center for Talented Youth

LNCS: Linguistics (Summer 2014, 2015, 2017)
GRK1: Beginning Ancient Greek (Summer 2014, 2015) Teaching Assistant Summer 2011-13
LAT1: Beginning Latin (Summer 2013)

The Tatnall School

Latin I, II, III, IV, Advanced Placement: Vergil (2008-10)
English Literature & Composition: Greek Tragedy, Vergil & Dante, 20th Century Science Fiction (2008-10)

 
 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

in teaching Classics

Teaching courses in translation has always appealed to me because of the opportunity it presents to interact with a wider cross-section of the university population. I have been fortunate to do exactly that at the University of Cincinnati, but I have also found a similar level of diversity among the students in my Latin and Greek courses. Both sets of students have brought a variety of prior knowledge to the classroom, along with a wide range of motivations that led them there. My classes have included non-traditional students, such as the facilities engineer learning Greek to take a more active role in a church community, along with undergraduates from several different colleges of the university and a group of enthusiastic, committed Classics majors. Each class is unique, and I strive to encourage students to follow their interests and bring their individual perspectives into each discussion, ensuring that their classmates are exposed to new ideas and information. My Cinema class benefited greatly from discussions that allowed a film studies major, a gender and sexuality studies major, a music major, and a former Latin student of mine to share expertise and explain their approach to viewing films through respectful dialogue with clearly established guidelines.

Such effective teaching requires creating an inclusive learning environment for all learners. I consider a recent success at this objective to be the collegial and friendly classroom environments of my intensive language courses, and I credit this success to active collaborations among students allowing them to know their classmates well and build mutual support systems. Using online resources productively has also improved outcomes for my students, and for both synchronous and asynchronous classes I have turned elements like lectures and quizzes into online assignments that students can complete around their other obligations. Even before the COVID pandemic, but certainly reinforced by it, I have re-thought my approach to deadlines and worked with students to help them develop effective schedules for their individual circumstances. The variety of formats for activities, assignments, and assessments in my courses also ensures that students will have opportunities to try different approaches and find one that works.

 

Classicists also have a responsibility to represent the material itself in an inclusive framework. Obstacles to conveying the true diversity of the ancient world include the persistent whitewashing of slavery and race in antiquity, the omission of (for instance) perspectives on Athens other than male citizens’, or the tendency towards gatekeeping in Classics involving a notion of “Western Civilization.” I have addressed these issues, among others, by pushing back against a misleading narrative in our Greek textbook, foregrounding the experiences of women and non-elites in Greek and Roman Civilization courses, and in my recent Cinema course, seeking out films that provide diverse perspectives on ancient and modern issues such as Cacoyannis’ The Trojan Women and Lee’s Chi-Raq. Such studies of Classical reception illustrate the variety of approaches taken by different filmmakers, emphasizing the point that Classical stories belong to the wider world and encouraging students to seek their own meanings from text and film.

My teaching experiences have led me to understand above all that pedagogy takes a lifetime to master and that I must continue to seek avenues for improvement throughout my career. Any course, in any area of Classics, challenges instructors and learners to translate between ancient and modern. As an instructor my fundamental goal is to help students bridge the two while keeping in sight the true distance that lies between them. This is no easy task, but I remain committed to seeing it optimistically as an opportunity to make a meaningful impact. The abundance of riches waiting to be discovered in Classics deserves nothing less.