Teaching is not only a critical part of scholarly life it is also an amazing opportunity to connect with students about topics I feel passionately about. I have experience both teaching my own classes and assisting in the instruction of a variety of courses taught both traditionally and online. In addition to my work as an instructor and teaching assistant I have also created the instructor’s manual for a college-level textbook on the United States Congress. You can find links to my syllabi below.
Instructor of Record
Introduction to American Politics
I approach my Introduction to American Politics course by explicitly placing the historical development of the United States political system at its heart. The course starts with the first African slaves brought to the colonies and traces the political develop of the country through the most recent developments in our political institutions such as centralized leadership in Congress and the Imperial Presidency. I am a firm believer in the idea that history can tell us much about our current political situation. While I am certainly not a historian or even an APD scholar, I personally find history to be critical to my own understanding of politics within the United States and around the world.
In addition to my lectures, I also regularly assign outside readings from the popular press that students discuss in small groups. These articles are meant to stimulate discussion around big ideas in American politics today or forced students to debate two sides of a contested issue. For example, one week students wrestle with whether or not the United States Senate should even exist; another week they debate the role of federal regulations in protecting or harming Americans and their impact on the economy. At all times I strive to present an objective view of politics. As someone with a longstanding interest in American politics, I know it to be true that most people want to make up their own minds. Presenting students with diverse perspectives and facts will help them shape their own opinions and take ownership over different ideas about what it means to be a citizen in the United States today. Ideally, these developments will also push them to become more civically engaged too.
Before coming to St. Lawrence, where I am currently teaching two sections of this course, I taught this course to about 100 students at the University of Texas at Austin. Following the conclusion of that course I received a course evaluation of 4.4/5.0. Many students remarked that they felt they genuinely learned something new about American politics from my course even though they did not care for politics, and many were impressed by my commitment to neutrality. While research tends to be what drives our discipline, at the end of the day I like to talk about politics with those who are interested. Not only is it of interest to me, but it is absolutely critical for the proper functioning of American democratic institutions. Teaching is a crucial component of our jobs as academics and one that I take very seriously and enjoy immensely. This course’s syllabus is available here.
The United States Congress
My course on the United States Congress centers on two concepts I believe are critical for understanding the institution. First, that Congress is a social institution and it is made up of people. The interactions members have with another are not just purely political, cold, and calculating (although of course sometimes they are) and those interactions have consequences. Members’ relationships with one another lead to complex webs of influence that need to be understood in a social context; it is not just the political, financial, and ideological factors that shape who members are and what they choose to do. Second, Congress is a dynamic institution and the Congress we see today is the result of decisions made by members past. One of the most fascinating aspects of Congress is that the U.S. Constitution explicitly delegates to members the power to “determine the Rules of its Proceedings.” This excerpt from Article I Section 5 signals that the possibilities for Congress’ institutional development are boundless, though we can trace its development back to 1789 and learn much about the institution we see today.
Taken together, these concepts shape a course driven both by the history of the institution and its contemporary life. The course begins by putting Congress in the context of our republican government and the socio-political realities of Colonial America that produced it. From there we move to understand how Congress has consistently been a mirror for societal strife in the United States, with members pulling guns and knives and brawling on the floor in the 19th century to the storming of the Capitol by citizens just this year. Next, we dive into the organs of the institution: committees, parties, and the elections that drive members to serve their constituents. Then the course turns to the legislative process, first exploring the so-called “Textbook Congress” of the late 20th century and then the modern legislative process. The course closes with discussions on external influences on Congress and pondering where the line between influence and corruption really is, if it exists at all.
Throughout the course the students will also produce a research paper and present it to the class. This project gives them the opportunity to explore a particular facet of Congress or congressional behavior in detail and with theoretical sophistication. It will also help them cut their teeth with social science research, including using real social science data if they so choose. Periodically throughout the semester I step down from my soap box and students facilitate small-group discussions on academic articles, book chapters, and articles from the popular press. These discussion allow them to first interact with this challenging material among their peers and then I facilitate a larger discussion with the entire class. This format allows students to drive the discussion of these materials and therefore highlight the aspects that most resonate with them. This course’s syllabus can be found here.
Teaching Materials Prepared
Theriault, Sean M. and Mickey Edwards. 2019. Congress: The First Branch. New York: Oxford University Press.
Prepared instructor’s manual including the following for each chapter of ten chapters:
– 80 questions (multiple choice, short answer, and essay)
– Lecture slides
– Class activities and lecture suggestions
– Supporting online materials
Head Teaching Assistant
From Fall 2016 through Spring 2018 I served as the Head Teaching Assistant for the University of Texas’ online Introduction to American Government course. This course tends to have an enrollment around 1000 students per semester, which requires a robust team of Teaching Assistants. In leading that team I coordinated between the faculty instuctors, the teaching assistants, and the production managers who helped deliver the class online to undergraduates. My duties included designing test materials, occasionally lecturing in the absence of an instructor, and a lot of logistical coordination. In some ways this job was more like being a project manager than a traditional teaching assistant. Despite this, and most importantly, it provided me with a unique perspective of what a large-scale online-only course looked like behind-the-scenes and what was feasible for instruction and evaluation in those settings.
For four semesters I served as a regular teaching assistant for in-person classes. Two of those appointments were for Introduction to American Government. These classes involved grading exams, occasional lecturing, and leading review sections. I also served as a TA for two more specialized classes: Congressional Elections and the Politics of Health. Each provided a useful perspective on how to deliver more specialized material to smaller classes. Overall, I learned a lot about the norms of teaching from serving under the many devoted faculty members at The University of Texas at Austin.