Sandra Ballif Straubhaar
List of prior teaching awards won
Spring 2002 Wakonse Fellow, Wakonse-South (Wakonse Conferences on College
Statement of Teaching Philosophy
Excellence in teaching is essential in Liberal Arts curricula, since nothing less is at stake than a) the survival of the field and, ultimately, b) the survival of intelligent
discourse, based on careful reading, in our national community.
Although an acquaintance with foreign languages and literatures, cultural studies, philosophy, anthropology and history is necessary in any community (large or small) as
a foundation for critical thinking, today’s undergraduates, for a number of reasons, have fewer and fewer opportunities to even begin to make that acquaintance, and thereby less
desire or inclination to seek out our courses as they progress through their undergraduate majors.
Our tasks as teaching faculty in the Liberal Arts, then, involve not only (on the University level) the defense of foreign language requirements and other related
humanistic incentives, but also (on the classroom level) the practice of diverse and creative teaching approaches, beginning with entering freshman students and continuing
throughout our undergraduate curricula, designed and deliberately aimed towards bringing more of these students into courses based on literature, language, cultural
studies, philosophy, anthropology and history. I have given a good deal of thought to the construction of these diverse approaches, as I hope to show below.
I. Narratives, Flexible Canonicity and a Cornucopia of Theory
First, I have constructed the majority of my syllabi around narrative and story. Our students come to UT as freshmen already brimming with a mental library of beloved
narratives – films, music videos, books and graphic novels, TV shows, video game scenarios, jokes, and songs. I use the tools of folkloristic morphology and structuralist
anthropology, among others, to connect these familiar narratives (which the students already know) to the new ones under study -- from novel to tale to epic to ballad -- in any
given course that I teach. Openness in text selection is crucial, I think.
Second, this openness in text selection means that we must leave behind a fixed canonical list of authors and works. This does not mean the abandonment of “the classics,” but merely the ongoing development of an increasing canon, which need not exclude them. We need to include texts in our postmodern reading-lists which have been drawn from categories previously eschewed by modernist elitism – for example, texts from previously marginalized time periods (e.g., the Middle Ages); texts of previously marginalized authorship (women and minorities); and narratives from previously marginalized genres (e.g., children’s literature, folk songs and ballads, popular fiction, popular film, comic books and graphic novels, online gaming). Under modernism, students were taught what was a superior cultural product and what was an inferior one, based largely on the personal tastes of the professor; not only is this is no longer a particularly useful approach, but it has been known to alienate the student from cultural products in general. (I am speaking semi-autobiographically here.)
Third, I encourage my students to engage in the eclectic application of theory to the narratives under study, as my syllabi will show. I require readings in post- structuralist, feminist, post-colonial, deconstructionist, Marxist, new-historical and psychoanalytic criticism, among others, alongside the assigned readings of primary texts. Undergraduate students who plan on future graduate study, in particular, need to become fluent in the diverse languages of theory in order to intelligently frame the arguments they will be presenting in the future in academic papers, theses and dissertations.
Fourth, in my undergraduate language and literature courses, I make it a point to display a strong commitment to popular culture (small-c culture). I use, as teaching supplements, all of the following, among others: advertisements; news broadcasts; popular songs and videos from YouTube; DVDs and CDs of musicals; children’s books; online blogs; and online photo-essays from sites such as Flickr. In connection with these endeavors, I am extremely grateful for the media rooms we have available acrosscampus.
II. Scandinavian Majors and Minors
I am the undergraduate Scandinavian advisor, and I work together with four other Department colleagues, as well as with the current Swedish T.A., towards the interrelated goals of developing and improving our Nordic-related language and culture courses. Recently we have been running a Nordic film series every semester. Student attendance has been promising and enthusiastic, and this semester looks to be equally good. As we stipulated when we, as a faculty committee, drew up the OATS templates for Scandinavian several semesters back, we currently maintain a portfolio -- housed in my office -- for each undergraduate Scandinavian major or minor. Both faculty and students have input as to what goes into the portfolios, which are intended to showcase each student's best work -- encompassing many types of assignments from essays and compositions, to printouts of PowerPoints, to language examinations.
I like to use everything available on the media consoles, particularly the document camera, the DVD player and both PC and Mac computers when both are present. I especially like the console in MEZ B0306. There are two media screens in the room, so I can have two different images from the Web up at the same time – one on each computer – or one computer image plus one Doc Cam image. When I am fortunate enough to have that room, I can set these up before each lecture, so the students have two diverse images or text blocs to look at as they file in. On the language-teaching side, I am delighted that the new book for NOR 604 comes with an amazing array of related YouTube videos, links to Websites, and a CD with short videos and other supplementary material, all of which both I and the students use regularly and with considerable enthusiasm. In both literature and language courses, I regularly use PowerPoint presentations -- an average of five or six per semester at the most, though, since I feel that they have less potential to engage student interactivity than some of these other methods.
Through the years I have developed a number of unique strategies for large lecture courses, specifically The European Folk Tale, with the goal of involving a maximum number of students in any given class period. I use small-group work, reading aloud and skits, student presentations of folklore samples (e.g., ghost stories and ethnic jokes), as well as the division of the class in two or three large groups (depending on number of T.A.s) for independent discussions.