Teachers rarely talk about the role imagination plays in helping to create and sustain the engaged classroom. Since much of the work in a given course is the sharing of facts and information, it is easy to discount the role of imagination. And yet what we cannot imagine cannot come into being. We need imagination to illuminate those spaces not covered by data, facts, and proven information.

bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom (2010, p. 59)

In school, my most impactful educators encouraged me to imagine first, strategize next, then take concrete action. This approach to learning also informs my philosophy and practice of teaching. The teacher-scholar model that influences my pedagogy derives from the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ framework. It emerged during the Civil Rights Movement as the political climate in the United States deteriorated and civil rights groups fought for racial equality and social justice following the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education to desegregate public schools. My teacher-scholar model emphasizes inclusivity and transdisciplinary collaboration to address and solve practical problems. Additionally, I believe teacher-scholars can and should be “role models, mentors, and guides for continuous, lifelong learning.”

When teaching, it is essential that my classroom environment is anti-racist and students actively work to understand the impacts that their career choices have on communities and the planet at large. My teaching respectfully interrogates the pedagogical aftermath of colonization and white privilege. I encourage bi-directional learning, inquiry, and inclusive discourse to specifically support historically marginalized groups, including students who are undocumented, Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Fostering a collegial, safe classroom atmosphere is imperative, particularly when students come from vastly different backgrounds. I cultivate critical-thinking skills, cultural respect, and racial awareness through observe-and-write exercises that my professors at Arizona State University taught me as an undergraduate studying journalism. Lesson plans are framed around open-ended approaches to learning, such as journaling, small-group discussions, brain-mapping of course concepts, and think-pair-share exercises. More conventional pedagogical tools to gauge learning outcomes include quizzes, written summaries of lecture, PowerPoint presentations for assigned reading materials, and formal writing exercises (e.g., short essays, personal reflections, academic analyses, literature reviews, and annotated bibliographies).

My lectures incorporate various media, such as music, poetry, literature, art, television and movie clips, and content that trends on social media as entry points for discussing the politics of race, gender, class, disability, education, and the environment. I use captions and transcripts with digital media so that students who speak English as a second language or are Hard of Hearing are included in the learning process. My method of engaged teaching also draws from more than eight years of media industry experience. Relationships that I have built with media practitioners, who have been guest speakers for my courses, help communicate to students what working in the culture industry is like.

UC San Diego students collected approximately 20 pounds of trash from La Jolla Shores at a quarterly clean-up for the Earl Warren College Writing Program in November 2019.

For environment-oriented classroom discussions, I incorporate examples of my coastal research, including videos and photos of marine wildlife die-offs due to El Niño in 2016. These disturbing visuals serve as a springboard for discussions about environmental ethics and climate justice. Through experiential learning, I try to help students self-examine their positions of power in relation to the environment. I enjoy organizing quarterly, student-centered trash clean-ups throughout San Diego County while serving as a volunteer liaison for the university, student organizations, the City of San Diego, and local nonprofit environmental organizations.

As a lifelong learner myself, my imagination benefits from structured training and pedagogy-centered movement. Since 2013, I have earned three certificate of completions, one of which focuses on strategies to encourage inclusive engagement. To help sustain the engaged classroom in the remote and physical learning environment, I actively participate in institutional meetings as well as teaching workshops sponsored by UCSD’s Teaching + Learning Commons.