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Teaching Philosophy

Socrates Thinking StatueThe mediocre teacher tells.
The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates.
The great teacher inspires.
~William A. Ward

As an advanced assistant professor, I strive to be an enthusiastic, engaging, accessible, and supportive teacher who is truly dedicated to helping students reach their full potential. My deep passion for teaching comes from the belief that by providing students with interdisciplinary skills in sociological inquiry, critical thinking, and data analysis, I am preparing them to be engaged citizens who will shape the future of their communities. If I do not give students my best effort, I am in turn depriving society of theirs. In the classroom, I use the teacher/scholar model as students connect complex theoretical frameworks with their lived experiences and unique social positions. When students go forth, I want them to recognize what Max Weber referred to as "inconvenient facts" and have the conviction to engage them critically.

In the classroom, I employ multiple learning techniques to make the material accessible to a variety of learning styles. While I lecture as necessary, I prefer to use a seminar format. This allows me to engage directly with students, weaving together their experiences to create a safe and supportive, yet rigorous learning environment. I enhance my classes by using carefully crafted handouts, images, videos and PowerPoint presentations. The use of diverse pedagogical techniques encourage students to develop their critical thinking and analytic skills, allowing them to move beyond assumptions of a monolithic lived experience and consider differences among diverse communities and identity groups. Additionally, by promoting practical thinking, writing skills, and critical media literacy in my courses, students learn to reject unconsidered opinions and stereotypes and engage with material in ways that demonstrate clarity of thought, knowledge and reasoning.

As a first generation academic, I am acutely aware how homogeneous college classrooms can appear. As a result, supporting diversity and inclusion in higher education is of great personal importance to me. My own career has taken me across the country: from the Pacific Northwest, to the urban Midwest, central New York, and now to rural Appalachia. Along the way, I have gained a firsthand appreciation of the breadth of human difference. I found that diamonds are everywhere, and it is our responsibility as educators to give those students a chance to shine. I seek out opportunities to mentor students with diverse identities, giving them the same encouragement I received. I create an inclusive classroom environment that encourages all students to experience the complex and diverse ways humans engage with their social world. I use student led discussions to provide them opportunities to share diverse experiences and to consider their own intellectual selves.

Ultimately, I teach with clarity, respect, and sincere joy. I strive to ignite the fires of intellectual curiosity so that my students take a passion for knowledge and the willingness to challenge preconceived ideas as they embark upon their futures. I demand a great deal of my students, both in terms of rigor and their development as interdisciplinary scholars. Yet I give back to students just as much as I help them gain confidence and an understanding of their place in the social world. My goal is that students leave my classroom with the ability to engage in a thoughtful analysis of their own social responsibility. I expect each student to understand and apply their own sociological imagination as he or she engages with the world in complex ways as a thoughtful, knowledgeable and socially aware person.

Classroom Pedagogy

As a discipline, the strength of sociology is the insight into the connections between individual lived experiences and the broader social world. In order for students to achieve a comprehensive understanding of this relationship, I employ applied pedagogical techniques. I bring texts to life for students by having them apply the theory to real world problems. My “Understanding Poverty Budget” activity used in introductory sociology courses is a great example. In the multi-part activity, students research and develop a family budget, based on local cost of living data. Then, they are asked to make adjustments to that budget based on two scenarios: as recipients of TANF and as a minimum wage worker. Students discuss the real world challenges of poverty, common stereotypes and practical survival strategies.

I often draw on current events, popular culture, and social expectations to engage students in critical dialogues about particular communities. A module in my Social Problems course for instance, focuses on the tense relationship between law enforcement and communities of color in the U.S. Through student-generated questions, we examine social tensions through a combination of theoretical knowledge and lived experiences. Students are broken up into small groups to consider these questions. I speak with each group one-on-one and then bring the class back together where we debate the important issues raised by the students.

I also utilize student led discussions and response papers to explore the ideological positions of competing groups. Students are expected to understand both sides of an issue, regardless of their own personal opinion on the matter. These lessons encourage students to move beyond simply agreeing or disagreeing, and instead require them to engage critically with both the text and classroom discussion. In order to achieve this level of student engagement it is essential to develop a respectful and civil classroom environment. I establish clear guidelines of behavior that allow us to engage in a lively debate that reflects diverse world-views, but are not marred by inappropriate or destructive contributions. The ability to engage in civil discourse with those who hold different views is one of the most important skills my students learn.

Mentoring Students

Time spent in the classroom is essential, but my duties as a professor do not stop at the end of a class. I provide students with regular one-on-one meetings, detailed feedback on assignments and an open door policy. This gives students that little bit of extra help to fulfill their academic and personal potential. In my courses, I require individual meetings where we talk about course work, study skills, career goals, personal challenges, and to celebrate their successes. I use these meetings to get to know my students so I can adapt my teaching to their needs and interests. As a faculty advisor, I regularly meet with my sociology majors to discuss course selection and academic progress, keeping them on track to graduation.

I also seek out opportunities to mentor and collaborate with student researchers. I know firsthand how meaningful it is to students when a professor takes an interest in their work. That is the reason I have become so active with McNair, a program that provides disadvantaged undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in a yearlong research project in preparation for graduate school. My current McNair scholar is exploring the representation of women, people of color and sexual minorities in video games. I have previously collaborated with student researchers on topics such as interaction order studies, social media, campus safety, and minority student retention. I take on these extra responsibilities because I know that when I support students outside of the classroom, I am also supporting the lives of everyone their efforts touch.

astandlee@concord.edu • Concord University • (304) 384-6054