Creating an inclusive and safe learning environment for students is central to my teaching philosophy. As an educator, I strive to support students’ learning regardless of their academic backgrounds or learning styles. At the beginning of each course, I assess the classroom (whether it is small intimate space or large lecture hall), students’ academic background, and their needs and expectations of the course. A few examples of how I accomplish this include giving students the opportunity to introduce themselves to the class, sharing why they are taking the course and what they expect to learn. Then, after the first week of class, I asses students’ knowledge, writing, and critical thinking skills based on their discussion of some of the course’ major topics. I do so by prompting them with questions that they answer in a short essay format. The purpose of this assignment is not only to assess their previous knowledge of certain topics, but also to design the syllabus in a way that will best meet their needs. For example, when I taught Introduction to Sociology at Moltow State Community College, I reviewed students’ essays and found that that they did not have sufficient knowledge of the concepts of subtle racism and global inequality. Because I view the development of a syllabus as a reflective exercise, I made sure to spend additional time explaining these two topics during the course. Further, when I taught the same course at South College, Nashville site, I realized that the majority of my students came from the nursing school and other associated fields, so I tailored the course to their interests by assigning course material and assignments relevant to health care.
In my teaching, I employ several pedagogical techniques that center students in the learning process and develop their critical thinking, problem solving, and oral and writing skills. I also use a variety of multimedia teaching materials, including YouTube videos, films, and documentaries, to supplement the course readings. In addition, I invite guest speakers to lecture, create small and large discussion groups, and assign small-group projects to vary the class structure. I have received much positive feedback about my ability to make the class as interactive as possible. A former student had this to say about one of my courses: “[She] was very involved with discussion among the students and encouraged [us] to step outside of the box and ask questions we would not normally ask and made sure that all of her students were comfortable with the lectures and discussions.” Another former student wrote, “Each class, we had the opportunity to have class discussions and interact with the other classmates.”
In addition, whenever possible, I incorporate experiential learning and short fieldwork assignments. For example, whenever I teach introductory courses such as Introduction to Sociology, I invite students to dress up and visit a high-end store, then dress down and visit the same store. Then in a short essay, I ask them to evaluate both experiences and the ways in which they were approached by the retail clerks.
Furthermore, I pay close attention to creating an inclusive and equitable environment in the class where all students can thrive regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic status, religion, language, (dis)abilities, sexual orientation, veteran status, etc. For example, while working as a full-time lecturer at the University of Duhok, Iraq, I had many students whose fathers were veterans or who came from working class families and rural areas. Because some of these students struggled to access to the course material, I provided them printed and electronic copies, assisted them with accessing the internet in the library, and mentored them during my office hours. In addition, I paid close attention to students with disabilities and students with special skills. For example, while working at the University of Duhok, one of my students had facial paralysis and came from a rural area. She used to sit at the back of the class and was hesitant to participate in in-class activities for fear of being judged. I invited her to my office and she shared that she needed more encouragement from me to participate in in-class activities and requested that I help her gain access to physical therapy. I connected her with one of the local hospitals that offered her the service she needed. Another group of students had excellent writing and journalism skills. Their goal was to establish a small magazine, but they needed mentorship to achieve that. I assisted them with communicating with the college and revised their articles, poems, and other pieces for publication. I still keep in contact with two of them, both who are now successful authors with published books and articles.
As an educator, teaching is not only a passion but also a continual learning process. One former student said, “It’s extremely evident that Professor Mohammed really loves teaching and learning from us (students). She has educated me on many different social issues that I had no idea about before her starting class.” I keep track of all my students’ evaluations and thoroughly analyze the quantitative and the qualitative evaluations they give on the course and I use it as feedback to constantly grow and become a better teacher.