Teaching is more than just a lecture...It's empowering!
My teaching approach and pedagogy is student-centered and empowering. In student evaluations, students note my command of sociology theory, methods, and ideas and, with this information, apply it in their own lives and to their communities. My peer and chair teaching evaluations typically note how my courses are exciting and intellectually stimulating by facilitating students’ self-exploration and desire to learn.
Students don't just stay in the classroom. I incorporate service learning in a number of my sociology classes so that students can "learn experientially" what we've been reading and discussing in the classroom, while also serving the community to change the world in meaningful ways. My experience is that students want the tools to be empowered; they want guidance to learn and not be taught what to think. I strive to provide students these tools. Service learning gives students opportunities to learn the career skills necessary for success in the 21st Century, such as collaboration, problem-solving, and critical-thinking, while also teaching them compassion for the plight of others, even if students have differing political ideologies, socioeconomic backgrounds, or other differences.
In class, I offer personal examples to explain social theories and ask students to—when comfortable—relate sociology course material to their lived experiences so that that differing understandings of content processes allow application of concrete knowledge that moves toward more abstract thinking. Relating concepts to one's life allows the person to become self-reflective, to see how their behaviors impact the lived experiences of others, and leads to conversations with others who are different than themselves.
An empowerment teaching approach can end up making civil society more "civil," particularly in my service learning" courses. Students take the leadership to identify a social issue that is meaningful to them, and then I incorporate their ideas into a service learning project. In my Spring 2018 Social Inequalities course, students volunteered to work at the La Posada Providencia shelter for refugees and asylees in San Benito, Texas. In my Spring 2016 Social Movements course, students created a project to highlight the need for the State of Illinois to fund higher education and maintenance projects to improve the water quality on campus. Students in my courses learn how to create an argument and support it with data, and how to take their skills to empower communities to do good. Doing "good" means they also are socialized on ways to use social media to empower themselves and others, and not as a weapon to humiliate, shame, or bully others who share a different perspective.
I employ a “Specifications Grading” model (see Linda Nilson's book for a general framework), or specs for short. Specs flips the logic of grading by having student decide (See? Again, empowering!) what grade they want to earn in a course and then meet the specific criteria I developed for that grade. Specs grading allows my group of students, who often are the first in their families to go to college and are typically balancing tremendous work/life/school responsibilities, the opportunities to succeed through the revision process. One or two “slip-ups” will not yield an “F” in the course if they are determined to work hard in revising to meet the assignment’s specifications.
Specs grading socializes students to look to themselves as sources of knowledge, to meet the rigors of critical thinking and problem solving head-on through applications of their own talents, and to strengthen their self-esteem that they have what it takes to accomplish academic success. Simply put, it motivates students to achieve high academic rigor. Nearly all students of mine have loved this very challenging, empowering, and flexible model of grading.
SELECT INVITED LECTURES
Dr. Cortese's impassioned and engaging teaching is not limited to students at Governors State University. If you would like to book Dr. Cortese for an invited lecture on an array of sociological topics, including gender and masculinities, tobacco control, social movements, and media messaging, feel free to contact him using the linked form.
“Trump’s ‘Brand’ of Masculinity”
In this invited lecture at Concordia University in River Forest, IL for the Masculinities (SOC/CRJ 4910) course taught by Dr. Jodie Dewey, I used the theoretical framework of the social construction of reality, and the characteristics of "new lad masculinity" from my article Enticing the New Lad article to explain how "Trump" is a "brand of masculinity" that is a product of consumption. Using this framework, I was able to demonstrate that the same model that the tobacco industry used to sell tobacco products to young adults in the 1990s and 2000s is remarkably similar to the way Trump's masculinity is a branded product for mass consumption.
“Good Slut or Bad Slut: Media Representation of Female Sexuality in United States”
In this invited lecture at Governors State University for the Introduction to Gender and Sexuality (GNSX 2100) course taught by Dr. Ellen Walsh, I engaged the students in a critical thinking exercise that bridged intersectionality theories of sociology with art history, Black history, and pop culture. Students were asked to assess the sexualization of the body, particularly African women, and then consider the level of human agency in the decision-making to sexualize women's bodies. Using Gramsci's concept of hegemony, students were able to explain how and why women may not resist sexualized imagery of their bodies, particularly when it comes to making a "brand" of oneself in a man's world.
"WHAT’S YOUR CAREER EDGE?: REFLECTIONS FROM AN ALUMNUS ON A SUMMER ABROAD IN ITALY
In this invited lecture at my alma mater Stony Brook University for International Academic Programs & Services, I used my travel journal and photographs to provide students with a rare opportunity inside my own immersive study abroad experience in Rome, Italy in 1997. I framed the study abroad experience within the ethnographic and fieldwork methodologies, and Pierre Bourdieu's theories on types of capital to explain how they may be able to translate this experience to employers more effectively.