1. Teaching Statement
I love teaching because I love learning, and teaching is a great opportunity to learn. I think of myself and my students as participants in a joint endeavor, and of my students’ success as my success. My main goal as a teacher is to help my students to improve their learning, and to equip them with the right tools for tackling the questions that are of interest to them.
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Philosophy, in my view, is a craft that can be learned like other crafts. My classes therefore often include sessions in which we discuss how to do philosophy. For example, I always include in the beginning of the semester a class in which we discuss how to structure a paper and which style of writing one should aim at in philosophy. This kind of advice appears to be especially helpful for freshman students and to the many international students at NYU. I also frequently include sessions in which we visually break down the structure of arguments, using a technique known as argument mapping. Argument mapping is a great way to encourage student participation, especially when done in small groups which may later present their results.
I always include material in the syllabus that is new to me. By demonstrating how I master a new topic, I can be a role model and support my students in learning how to learn. For example, several sessions of the Introduction to Metaphysics that I taught at NYU in the Summer of 2016 focused on the philosophy of time, even though I did not know much about this area of metaphysics before teaching the course. My lecturesthen focused exclusively on the background knowledge required for understanding the assigned readings. For example, when we discussed the problem that special relativity poses for presentism, I explained what Minkowski spacetime is. But I left it to the students to develop in the class discussion what the resulting problem for presentism should be. In this way, I open up opportunities for my students to apply their new skills and to appropriate a new topic for themselves.
This focus on skills and methods for acquiring them is important for several rea- sons. First, students and especially students who belong to minorities in philosophy often doubt whether they have “what it takes” to succeed in philosophy. I can relate, since this is how I have often felt during my education. Teaching philosophical methods enables students to take it step by step, gives them a feeling of being in control and a sense of what they need to do for success in my class and in philosophy more generally. For the same reason, I also always hand out a detailed grading rubric that explains the criteria by which my students’ written work is judged.
Second, most students who study philosophy as undergraduates later continue in other fields. At NYU, many undergraduates study philosophy with an eye on a later career in law. Many of these students are not interested in philosophy per se, but want to get better at analytic thinking. Teaching methods such as argument mapping gives these students what they need the most.
Third, teaching philosophical skills adds variety and fun to a class. For example, I invented a game called Philosophy Taboo. Towards the end of the term, I collect about 50-100 philosophical and technical terms that were covered in the class, such as ‘analytic’, ‘presentism’, ‘A-theory’, and so on. I write these down on index cards, together with 5 “forbidden words” on each card. The game is then played in groups and proceeds in several rounds. In each round, a player has two minutes to explain as many philosophical terms as possible to his or her group, without using any of the forbidden words. My students were literally jumping up and down when playing this game.
This approach to teaching requires to often experiment with new activities and tech- niques, which does not always go well on the first attempt. For example, when I first asked my students to map a simple argument in groups, I realized within the first few minutes that this task was far too difficult. To clean up the resulting confusion, I decided to cut the exercise short and to solve the exercise with the whole class focused on the whiteboard instead. Now I always approach argument mapping much more gently, and begin by asking students to fill in the blanks in an argument structure that I antecedently prepare.
It is important to me to learn and become better as a teacher. I currently take part in a year-long teaching certificate program at NYU, in which we discuss a host of topics related to teaching, get valuable feedback on our teaching style, and get introduced to the latest research on effective academic teaching. I am looking forward to I am looking forward to furthering my knowledge of this topic and taking the next steps in my career as a teacher.
2. Teaching Experience
at NYU, unless specified otherwise
as sole instructor
Introduction to Metaphysics, Summer 2016 [syllabus]
as teaching assistant
- Fall 2016: History of Ancient Philosophy (Professor Jessica Moss)
- Fall 2015: Great Works in Philosophy (Professor John Richardson)
- Spring 2015: Metaphysics (Professor Kit Fine)
- Fall 2014: Minds and Machines (Professor Ned Block)
- Fall 2011/12: Introduction to Philosophy (Professor Tobias Rosefeldt, at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin)
- 11/2016 "Carnap's internal/external Distinction", undergraduate introduction to the Philosophy of Mathematics at Rutgers University
- 10/2015 "From Hume to Kant", undergraduate introduction to philosophy [slides]
- 03/2015 "David Lewis, Many but Almost One", undergraduate introduction to Metaphysics [slides]
- 11/2014 "Concept Pragmatism", undergraduate introduction to the Philosophy of Mind
3. Pedagogical Training
I have successfully completed “Preparing Future Faculty I: The Art & Craft of Teaching”, a semester-long course on the theory and practice of university teaching at NYU. The course covered: motivations to teach, active learning techniques, different learning styles, developing a teaching portfolio, assessment strategies and classroom management. The course also included a practice component, in which each of the participants taught a short class which was filmed and evaluated by the other participants.
I am currently taking the semester-long course “Preparing Future Faculty II: Success through Communication”, which builds on “Preparing Future Faculty I”. The course covers: communication skills for presentations, lesson planning, developing a course syllabus, the incorporation of technology in the classroom, and criteria for the assessment of academic classes.
I strive to create an inclusive classroom atmosphere, and have participated in the following 3 hour long diversity trainings at NYU:
- Safe Zone I, a workshop designed to build the capacity of participants to help create inclusive spaces for LGBTQ community members.
- JusticeZone, a workshop designed to facilitate understanding of concepts such as diversity, equity, and social justice through the lens of race and racism.
My lecture style is informed by scientific research on which methods help to “make it stick”. I make sure that core ideas and concepts are repeated often throughout the class and over the course of the semester. I interleave topics, and point out connections between materials learned earlier and materials that will be covered later. I test my students frequently in a low-stakes environment, for instance through vocabulary tests, since retrieval is the single best method to prevent forgetting. To increase student motivation, I give my students a choice between various options for how they will be assessed, e.g. between a choice between an in-class exam and a final term paper. I always make sure that the criteria of assessment are crystal clear, and discuss sample solutions in class. Each of my classes includes at least one active learning component.
An active learning exercise that I found particularly helpful is argument mapping, an exercise that asks students to visually break down the structure of an argument. An “argument map” consists of several boxes with one or more statements that could be either premises, conclusions, or both, and lines between boxes of two kinds: lines indicating support and lines indicating an objection. In the beginning of a semester, I would hand out the map of an argument that is almost complete apart from perhaps one or two empty boxes or perhaps a missing line. As the semester progresses, the students learn to produce argument maps from scratch, starting only with the philosophical text and a blank page and pen.
Here is a sample homework assignment on argument mapping which I handed out in the beginning of a semester in a recitation for a freshmen introduction to philosophy (“Great Works in Philosophy”, taught by Professor John Richardson).
A fun game to play is “Philosophy Taboo”. First, you need to collect 50-100 philosophical terms that were covered during the term, such as perhaps ‘analytic’, ‘presentism’, ‘A-theory’, and so on. Write these down on index cards, together with 5 “forbidden words” on each card. The game is then played in two groups and proceeds in several rounds. In each round, a player has two minutes to explain as many philosophical terms as possible to his or her group, without using any of the forbidden words. A player of the opposite group keeps watch that none of the forbidden words are used.
6. Teaching Evaluations
Evaluation as Sole Instructor
I have received the following numerical evaluations for my introduction to metaphysics, on a scale from 1 (= strongly disagree) to 5 (= strongly agree). 5 out of 11 students completed the survey (45.5%).
- Overall, the course was effective at helping me learn.
- The objectives of the course were achieved.
- The classes were well organized.
- The classes were informative.
- The course was intellectually challenging.
- The course increased my knowledge of the subject.
- The course stimulated my interest in the subject.
- Overall, Vera Sophie Flocke was effective at helping me learn.
- Vera Sophie Flocke created a supportive learning environment.
- Vera Sophie Flocke encouraged student participation.
- Vera Sophie Flocke was effective at facilitating class discussion.
- Vera Sophie Flocke was open to students’ questions and points of view.
- Vera Sophie Flocke provided helpful feedback on assignments (e.g., exams, papers, homework).
- Vera Sophie Flocke was accessible to students (e.g., via e-mail and office hours).
Evaluation as Teaching Assistant
I have received the following numerical evaluations for my work as teaching assistant, on a scale from 1 (= strongly disagree) to 5 (= strongly agree).
- A Fall 2016: History of Ancient Philosophy (Prof. Jessica Moss), response rate: 18/40 (45%)
- B Fall 2015: Great Works in Philosophy (Prof. John Richardson), response rate: 23/40 (57.5%)
- C Spring 2015: Metaphysics (Prof. Kit Fine), response rate: 16/38 (42.1%)
- D Fall 2014: Minds and Machines (Prof Ned Block), response rate: 12/37 (32%)
7. Selected Student Comments
+ Introduction to Metaphysics, Responsibility as Sole Instructor
- “Think you did a great job.”
- “The instructor’s encyclopedic knowledge of the subject matter was remarkable. I felt like we covered more material than I’ve covered in the sum total of past philosophy classes, and we covered it in an organized and intuitive fashion. The lecture notes (as they always are, in any class) were marvelous, and if they had been uploaded at the beginning of the session then I think the class could simply not be improved organizationally. Learning from an instructor who is clearly devoted to doing a good job disseminating the material is, obviously, ideal and is certainly not something that should be taken for granted. She was always very available via email and willing to set aside long chunks of time outside of class to discuss papers or problems with the material. The downside to the thoroughness of the lecture notes is that the lectures themselves tended to become long segments of reading directly from the notes. In a large class during the normal school year, I would not attend regularly if the situation were the same. Work and classes without lecture notes become priorities over attending a class that has a decent chance of becoming a reading of the lecture notes and an extended Q&A session. While lectures were occasionally very dynamic and engaging, particularly when there was group work, debate, or ”philosophy taboo” assigned, I think a potential area of improvement is in differentiating lectures from the lecture notes - though hopefully this can be done without keeping notes from the students to blackmail them into coming to class. An additional area of potential improvement is in cutting down on the length of one to one interactions with students during class time. I imagine that even the serial questioners would appreciate it, and I think that the tone of lectures would be more concise as a result. Inversely, students who refuse to volunteer their thoughts might be encouraged to speak either directly or indirectly. Being able to fully address one’s question in a classroom setting is nice, but it can get uncomfortable for the other students in the room when an interaction between the instructor and another student stretches on for 10+ minutes at a time. Overall, an enjoyable and effective course that required a slightly more than doable amount of homework when the readings were done as assigned.”
+ History of Ancient Philosophy, Teaching Assistant
- “(1) The questions she wrote and printed out and (2) how she wrote examples on the whiteboard – were most effective in helping me learn. One thing that would improve the section would be to spend more time reviewing the material before letting the students discuss. Overall, I enjoyed this recitation, and thought that it was a good compliment to the lectures.”
- “Vera’s handouts are excellent. They break down the material from lecture and guide recitation discussions. Her classes are always productive. She is good at letting students engage with one another before stepping in to clarify or to move on. She set clear expectations for essays and explained argument mapping very well, which came in handy for my second essay. While she can be a bit conversationally awkward, she is always friendly. My one suggestion is that she could improve her understanding of students’ questions, which she sometimes misunderstood. Maybe asking a clarifying question can save time and better resolve the confusion. Overall, though, Vera’s recitations are always productive and helpful.”
- “Vera is a very good and very helpful instructor. She’s very passionate and devoted to the class material too. She always come to the discussion well prepared. Discussions are well organized. And she helps us get a clear grasp at how to do philosophy in a proper way.”
- “Vera seemed prepared for every question. We would often refer back to the text to clear up certain confusions as well which I found helpful.”
- “Vera was great all-around”
- “Vera is very helpful during office hour. She listens and responds to students carefully and provides great ideas. And she replies email very quickly.”
- “Vera is excellent. She is great at encouraging students to participate.”
+ Great Works in Philosophy, Teaching Assistant
- “Vera Flocke was honestly the best recitation teacher I could’ve asked for. The discussions were always controlled in such a way that provided for a both collaborative and focused environment between students and teacher. Vera Flocke ensured that the key points of any text were discussed and understood in a way that made dense texts very accessible.”
- “Vera was quick to respond to emails and helped me develop my philosophy writing skills.”
- “Vera was fantastic and is the main reason I learned anything in this course, we had good class discussions and she went over topics she felt John Richardson had not explained effectively. If I had to critique her method, I would say that she’s quite harsh with regard to the things you say in class and their absolute accuracy, but, because of this, I was more inspired to contribute WELL and really pay attention to the text.”
- “It was good that we were in a small group and able to ask a lot of questions and have discussions. The discussions were more helpful for me than the argument mapping.”
- “She is very invested in her students. Always encouraged questions, and answered them thoroughly.”
- “Vera did a good job of answering questions and presenting and explaining the different papers and projects. I also found her very helpful when it came to explaining and recapping the information presented in the lectures. She was very helpful!”
- “The recitations were always well-structured with a clear plan for what that class will be about. We sometimes spend too much time one question that we don’t have time to discuss other, more interesting questions”
- “Vera is one of the most talented and devotional philosophers I have known. Her sharp mind and sound training in philosophy enable her to point out problems in our thinking almost immediately. She has this way to break down philosophical questions to their basic parts and carefully analyze them. Great philosophy TA.”
- “The best thing about Vera is that she explains ideas clearly and gives good feedback on assignments. One improvement could be less handouts to save the environment, however the handouts that had the questions on them that were answered in class were useful, as well as the sample philosophy paper and guidelines handout.”
- “Miss Flocke was an asset to have as a TA. She clarified any problems learners were having with texts and managed to engage learners to really pick apart the works. She helped with essay writing in particular.”
- “Ms. Flocke’s clarification of abstract concepts and argument reconstruction was very helpful to understanding philosophical works. Her feedback on papers was detailed, objective and genuine and pointed out weaknesses as well as strength in the student’s writing.”
- “I always liked how well organised the classes were with the handouts, and making sure we touched on what was discussed in class. The sessions done on deconstructing arguments to understand them, and prepping for papers was also really helpful. Always ready to help.”
- “Vera ran an excellent recitation. She knows the material and she is not afraid to explain to students when they’re misunderstanding a text while being respectful and supportive. The problem with a class like this is that, because there is just so much material, so much gets left out, but I have no fix to suggest.”
- “Vera was very organized with and passionate about the material that she taught in class. She facilitated a welcoming environment and went above and beyond to create materials for the class to go over. In the future I would suggest providing less questions and more review points in the documents that she created for class. But these documents were not even required of her as a Recitation teacher, so she really did go above and beyond!”
+ Metaphysics, Teaching Assistant
- “Vera is one of the smartest and most involved TAs I have ever had. She clearly put a LOT of effort into preparing for recitation, she graded extremely quickly, and she graded fairly and commented thoroughly and intelligently. I cannot think of any way to improve the section.”
- “Vera is the most responsible and organized TA I have had in NYU”
- “Vera, your handouts in each recitation were very helpful in clarifying the material discussed in lecture. In order to improve recitation discussion so that more students engage in it, I think it would help if you took a more informal, conversational tone. As of now, you seem quite intimidating and unapproachable, which dissuades me and others from asking questions. By creating a more relaxed environment in recitation, students would be more inclined to engage in the class discussion, and in turn, would come away learning more about the material. Without this helpful class discussion, it was difficult to earn a good grade, given the inherent difficulty of the course and Professor Fine’s sometimes inaccessible lectures. You were also a very tough grader.”
- “I love that she is very approachable, and helpful when teaching the subject matter.”
- “Mid-semester she started including writing exercises in class, which proved very helpful since all of our grades are determined by our writing - so it’s nice to actually get taught about that writing. If all we are taught is the readings and how to discuss them, then our papers will tend to look like the readings, which is actually not what is expected for an A/”
- “I thought she was very well organized. I wish she was more receptive to student’s questions. I would also suggest that she expand more on her answers if student’s ask her a question, or attempt to engage in dialogue with them on the issues they are concerned about.”
+ Minds and Machines, Teaching Assistant
- “Considering how abstract and difficult the readings in this class can be, Vera did a great job for her first time. While forced participation can be nerve-wracking, I admittedly learned the material better by attending her recitations. Perhaps it was the material of Ned’s assignments, not so much Vera’s explanations, that made me confused. But, thankfully, she was available to help often.”
- “There really needs to be more time on this. Vera is excellent in class, but we all need more time to discuss the subject as a whole. We’ve left every class overtime and with about a third of the subject not yet covered. This philosophy class needs more recitations, less subject to study, and more time to be more in depth about each subject. The recitation was extremely helpful”
- “Vera provided and discussed outlines of the lessons weekly and uploaded them to the recitation site on newclasses. This was extremely helpful in reviewing the material at the end of the week, and in cumulatively reviewing the material for the final exam. In addition, her comments on essays were specific and reasonable and made in a way that gave clear advice on how to improve. I’d say Vera could improve in encouraging student participation because often times students stayed quiet or participated sparsely in recitations.”