Teaching Philosophy


Hierarchies are difficult to navigate in a classroom environment, but I believe it to be an imperative in building strong relationships. I do not wish to struggle along, students disengaged, me demanding regurgitation of facts, all of us frustrated until we find our way to a completely useless final exam. I believe the undertaking of sociology is a journey embarked with students, rather than a set of demands someone in power makes on students without. It is possible to limit the distance between students and teachers if we make that an important part of learning. I ask students to learn together with me and each other about systems and concepts. I know that in doing so, we will all learn more, become more active citizens, and develop more empathy towards the experience of social ills.

I begin my courses by expressing my own identities and how they impact my life. As a queer, white, cis-gender, disabled, working-class woman, I experince the world in a particular way. I want them to see some piece of themselves in me. This allows for space to speak up, speak out, and ask for help. I want them to know I acknowledge our different worldviews and life experiences. I center the perspectives of the oppressed and marginalized. 

Student Learning and Engagement

To accommodate different learning styles, I integrate different teaching styles. I lecture in the traditional format, but prefer the introduction of concepts followed by a discussion of application to current events and students’ lives. Games, videos, and worksheets are tools I use to help students engage with the material. Students, no matter their particular learning style, respond more fully when they can see beyond the what and into the whys and hows of sociology.

I teach this way in order to help students see the power they have to impact their world. I want them to see their own lived expertise, in the spirit of Dorothy Smith’s groundbreaking conceptualization of institutional ethnography. I feel a profound sense of ethical and moral responsibility to provide a classroom that honors the lives of my students and the sociology in which I want to participate.

There are several concrete ways I use to reach these goals. For Social Problems, to illustrate the concepts and institutions related to welfare and public assistance, social stratification, and law enforcement/prison I developed fact sheets with resources outside the classroom environment. For Introduction to Sociology, I curated a Youtube playlist of videos on theorists, theories, and sociological concepts that use clear phrasing and animation to help explain more complicated concepts (especially at the beginning of the semester). The students seem to really enjoy and appreciate these resources.

Student comments related to learning and engagement:

“[Alana uses] a variety of teaching methods to reach out to different types of learners and reinforce ideas in different ways.”

“Her knowledge of the content. She is the very first professor to never read off the powerpoint and actually taught [sic]. “

Critical Thinking

Our current gauge of student success in a sociology classroom is outdated. While methods, theory, and statistics/data often have clear answers to technical questions, other pieces of the discipline such as concepts, systems and institutions are much less clear. My goal is for students to walk away from my class as critical thinkers. For them to view society as a “thing” we impact and that impacts us. 

Students understand my expectations through a clear syllabus that leaves room for changes in things like scheduling, weather, and new information related to the topics. A good example of how I set standards is found in the writing assignments. Each writing assignment is accompanied with a handout which clearly explains what students are expected to accomplish. Also included, is an outline of what students need to include in their work (see attached document for an explicit example of this).

I see evidence of student learning in their understanding of a concept, theory, or process consistent with current sociological research and other writing. Do they grapple honestly and intensely with the content? I believe this can be shown in a number of ways. Students can give examples from readings, their lived experience, or conceptualizations they have learned from lecture or activities. Sometimes that means they explain in a way that academia often views as illegitimate. I expect students to learn how to write and speak for an academic environment in order to reach their academic goals. However, I understand that many students need help with writing. I look at where students begin, seek to meet them where they are, and establish goals based on individual needs.

An assignment that utilizes this style of gauging critical thinking is the autoethnography project my Introduction to Sociology students undertake each semester. This assignment asks them to understand concepts of culture, socialization, and inequality and then apply that knowledge to their own lives. Students are graded on concept understanding, theoretical application, basic style guide requirements, peer-reviewed research application, and deadline adherence. Students have told me about being part of immigrant communities, musicians, club members, and employees. They tell the story of sociology through their lives. The “history and biography” that Mills described.

My style of teaching is both flexible and centered around the learner. The main tenets of learner-centered classrooms are: 1) A focus on individual learners; their characteristics, perspectives, interests, backgrounds, heredity, experience, capacities, needs and talents and 2) a focus on learning based on the principles of learning. These principles are based on utilizing both the best available knowledge on how learning occurs, and practices that promote the highest levels of achievement, motivation and learning most effective for students. Additionally, 3) A collaborative decision-making procedure on learning processes between instructors and students is of utmost importance. Teachers should include learners in decisions on learning processes and respect students’ individual backgrounds and abilities while simultaneously focusing on promoting motivation, overall achievement, and learning (McCombs and Whisler 1997).

Relevant comments from students and administrators related to critical thinking:
“I am writing to ask if I could use your wonderful discussion and prompts in my training video. I really think you did a fantastic job in the online forums.” Theresa Butori, PhD Instructional Designer, DETI University of North Georgia

“The way she encouraged the class to participate and give her the answers rather than just giving the class the answers and moving on. She forced us to think critically and not just give answers from the notes.”

Connection to life outside classroom, empathy and understanding

An exercise I have asked my students to participate in is stated as a way to learn Goffman’s concept of impression management. I break students into pairs and ask them to introduce themselves and then talk about anything they want to for ~10 minutes. After the 10 minute period is up, they answer two questions: What do I think about my partner? What do I think my partner thinks about me? 

This lesson has several goals. Impression management, or the way we present ourselves to our social world, is best understood by engaging in it and seeing the ways that a partner engages in it as well. College students may find it difficult to make friends or even basic networking connections. This activity asks them to learn some basic information about someone they do not know. This person can now help them if they miss class, have questions, or just need a pal to sit with. Lastly, I believe it helps to show them that they are, in fact, managing the impressions they make on others and that those impressions are overwhelmingly positive. Students tell me this activity has helped to alleviate some social anxiety by seeing positive statements about themselves by a classmate in black and white on a piece of paper. I encourage them to keep those pieces of paper for the whole semester to remind them that they are doing okay.

Relevant student statements related to understanding and empathy:

“[She] would relate to us and treat us well and share life experiences with us. She would encourage us to share with her as well.”  

“I think that her greatest strength is that she is honest with her students and has a very direct teaching style. I really enjoyed having her as a teacher. She was caring and wanted to know what students thought. She always delivered information that is normally hard to accept in a professional manner.”

“This is the first class I’ve taken where I felt like it was a higher level course. She picked out great readings and fun assignments to promote discussion about related topics in class. Very unique approach to teaching, but I’d love it and will definitely seek out some
of her future classes.”

“She teaches with a passion that many professors are lacking and does it in a way that causes you to stop and think about the world around you and how you can best help to fix it. She’s the reason I became a sociology minor. She made me realize that my opinions about social topics do matter and if I am passionate about a topic to speak up and help try to make a change. She deserves a raise.”


I believe education and sociology are multifaceted undertakings. The current climate of the United States demands a sociology of education that is filled with empathy, critical thinking, dismantling of power structures, and compassion. These are the values that make up the foundation of my classrooms. I always look to live my values in and outside of the classroom each day.


Published by Dr. Alana Anton

Woman. Atheist. #TeamSociology. PhDLyfe. Rabid Georgia Tech fan. M.A. and B.S. in Sociology from the University of West Georgia. PhD from Georgia State University. Part-time social commentator, full-time nut. Welcome.

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