Teaching Philosophy

My approach to teaching comes from 20 years experience teaching in traditional and non-traditional settings. As an academic, I have taught both large lecture and smaller seminar classes (at both the doctoral and undergraduate levels) on comparative politics, environmental politics (global and domestic), sustainable development, democracy and dictatorship, and qualitative methods. Before joining academia I worked for a decade as a facilitator, corporate trainer, developer of educational materials, and lecturer on Latin American politics and international affairs. This experience taught me to balance lecture with a teaching approach that elicits knowledge from a group through guided questioning, reflection on students’ experiences, and facilitated dialogue. One of the reasons I find teaching so rewarding is that, through this approach, I too learn from engaging with students.

In addition to increasing students’ knowledge I strive to impart practical skills applicable beyond the classroom. These include clear writing, analytical reasoning, and the ability to articulate a logical argument supported by evidence. I demand high quality papers from my students, but I allow students to rewrite them as many times as they like to receive a better grade. I find this policy to be highly motivating and rewarding for students with a desire to improve. Equally important is promoting attitudes conducive to learning, including an openness to understanding differing points of view and a respect for differing opinions. I encourage debates among students while insisting they respect differing opinions.

I teach to multiple learning styles, not only to keep students engaged but because students absorb and express information in different ways. I do this by mixing lecture with discussion, video, policy debates, and various forms of role-play, including case study teaching. For example, when teaching Environmental Politics I have students re-enact natural resource conflict scenarios based on case studies I developed from my fieldwork. In my comparative politics course I run a simulation of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s constitutional conventions to illustrate how political systems shape incentives and can be used to manage conflict in ethnically divided societies. I also evaluate student performance using a variety of mechanisms, including tests, presentations, writing assignments, projects, and class participation. Knowing that some students are shy and hesitant to speak before a crowd, I encourage students to come to my office hours, even if they do not have a question and just want to chat about politics.

Engaging students requires more than varying things up in the classroom. It also requires demonstrating the real-world applicability of concepts—answering the “so what” question students frequently ask. One of my strengths is being able to make the theoretical real. I do this in part by having students find current event examples of concepts discussed in class. Students invariably find connections I had not considered. This both enriches me as a teacher and provides excellent teaching moments. Because I believe students learn best when immersed in the issues they study, I enjoy organizing and leading student study tours abroad focusing on environmental politics and sustainable development.

My teaching philosophy developed over years of teaching in different settings. As a doctoral student, I honed my skills in the classroom as a Teaching Assistant for four different professors teaching comparative politics. Because of my success, in 2011 I was asked to teach two of my own courses in George Washington University’s Honors Program: Introduction to Comparative Politics and Global Environmental Politics. Since 2012, I have expanded and continued to hone my teaching skills at the University of Oregon by teaching large introductory undergraduate classes, mid-sized upper-level undergraduate seminars, and smaller doctoral-level seminars. While directing research at the Southern Center for International Studies in Atlanta (1997-2005), I lectured on Latin American politics and international affairs at Georgia State University, Brenau University, and at training seminars for international corporations like Siemens AG, Home Depot, and Chubb Insurance. I also designed multi-media, interactive educational materials for teaching world affairs. From 1994 to 1997 I worked as a cross-cultural trainer, teaching conflict management and negotiation to members of business, government, and community groups in the U.S., Nicaragua, and Cyprus.

Over the years I have mentored dozens of graduate and undergraduate students. My experience working with policy think tanks, NGOs, development organizations, multi-lateral institutions, and government agencies gives me a unique ability to mentor students as they set their professional goals.

My teaching interests reflect the breadth of my training and experience. I am prepared to teach a variety of courses in the areas of comparative politics, environmental politics (global and domestic), sustainable development, democracy and dictatorship, global governance, transnational networks, Latin American politics, and qualitative methods.

Craig M. Kauffman

last updated September 19, 2016