Paige Massey is a third year PhD student studying Philosophy. Her research focuses on epistemology—the study of knowledge and rational belief—with particular interests in evidentialism and issues related to the ethics of belief more broadly; she has secondary research interests in ethics, especially the effective altruism movement. Paige was recently awarded a Teaching Excellence Award based on her teaching philosophy and dedication to her students. We asked Paige a few questions to learn more about her as a teacher and get to know her better. Read more below!
What is your favorite part about teaching?
I'm in grad school to become a professor not only because I want to develop as a scholar, but also because I've benefited immensely from the mentorship I received from educators in high school and college. Now that I'm beginning to teach, it's rewarding to help students understand the material, but my favorite part is supporting students to feel like they have a place at the table and that there is someone rooting for them. Compared to the typical philosophy graduate student, I come from a fairly non-traditional background—female, Native American, low-income, first-generation, etc. Plus, I grew up in a single-parent household and my parent died of cancer in my last year of high school. So, my first year of college was initially really difficult due to circumstances I was facing outside the classroom, but a few professors were reliably supportive and that helped me trudge forward. I think so many students have non-academic circumstances that encroach on their performance in the classroom, which is additionally concerning when so many students also struggle to separate their self-worth from their academic performance. So, I try to encourage my students to think not only about the material, but also about their study habits, whether there are resources they can take advantage of outside the classroom, and how to build up their support system. When students say that I make them feel seen or that I make them feel like they belong, that's incredibly rewarding!
Please tell us a bit about your pedagogical philosophy.
A couple anchors in my pedagogical philosophy include encouraging a growth mindset and proactively rather than passively supporting students. With respect to growth mindset, when students think someone else believes they can do better despite past performance, I think that helps them to become more resilient as learners and to hold themselves accountable to their effort and growth rather than to their initial outcomes. With respect to proactive support, if teachers wait for students to ask for help, their help will often arrive too late or not at all given that so many students don't ask for help either with the course material or when something else comes up outside the classroom. So, I try to get my students to think ahead when it comes to studying and cultivating habits, to anticipate obstacles, and to respond quickly to mitigate challenges and disappointments. I'm also deliberate in frequently sharing information about various campus offices and initiatives where students can access support for a variety of circumstances just in case it could be helpful—and often students say they didn't know that such help was available through campus. I'm less interested in helping my students learn content per se rather than in cultivating the skills, habits, and confidence to succeed as students no matter the subject. If they master those general things, then acquiring specialized content is relatively easy.
Is there a particular story from the classroom you would like to share?
When we were approaching mid-semester and had already had an exam, I led a workshop for my students on study habits and student success. Each student shared what they considered to be helpful or hindering to their success—success either in our specific class or in general. So, people mentioned challenges like remote learning, time-management, taking notes, loneliness, organization, pressure from themselves or from parents, comparison, etc. They also shared what works for them, whether they used a planner or different apps, how they took notes and planned their weekly schedule, how they incentivize themselves to study, how they deal with low motivation, and more. Making a space for these types of discussions using class time can communicate to students that TAs and professors care not only about grades, but also about how students are doing more generally and it was an opportunity to actively support them and meet them where they are. This ended up being an extremely rewarding class because students were collaborative in crowdsourcing resources and solutions, and some students shared that it was encouraging and community-building just to hear that other students were going through similar things and that there was a way forward.
What is a favorite teaching resource you would like to share with other graduate teachers?
A couple resources I'll mention are (1) Canva, a graphic design platform I use to make slides and handouts, (2) the playlist feature on YouTube, which I use to save and organize video clips that I want to use in the classroom to illustrate points, and (3) Arts & Letters Daily, which is a website that links to trending news, magazine articles, essays, etc. from a wide variety of sources. It has a very straightforward design and refreshes every day, and it's both a great resource for teachers to mine for real-world applications or illustrations of ideas discussed in class and it's a great resource for students who don't know where to start to become more well-read.
What are your recommendations for continuing or increasing student advocacy and engagement?
A few things TAs can do to increase student advocacy and engagement are (1) become more informed about what resources are available to undergraduates both in your specific discipline/department and across campus, (2) be proactive in sharing this information with students—in class, on Canvas, by email, in the syllabus, etc.—and then sharing it again...and again, (3) manage expectations: clearly communicate what you expect of students regarding participation and classroom interaction, and solicit their feedback on activities and class styles they like and whether they are more comfortable participating in some ways rather than other ways, (4) invite students to office hours early and often and keep inviting them and reminding them throughout the semester; some students find office hours intimidating or think you only go to office hours to discuss a bad grade, so it's helpful to clarify why and when students might consider attending office hours, and (5) helping students to see themselves as their own best advocates by encouraging them to ask for help, connecting them to resources, and helping them to take responsibility for their own education and growth by supporting their learning skills and confidence.
Tell us a fun fact about you that is not related to your teaching and research.
I'm really into foreign detective shows! Some of my favorites are Endeavour, Shetland, Bordertown, Bron/Broen, Broadchurch, Giri/Haji, Delhi Crime, Babylon Berlin, River, Case, Collateral, Marcella, The Tunnel, The Valhalla Murders, and Killing Eve...to name only a few...
What is a good book you have read recently and why did you enjoy it?
I recently reread The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Spoiler: the author kills off the philosophy student, which is amusing given that the author's brother is the well known philosopher Jonathan Barnes (I promise this is a very minor spoiler). The book is slim and devastating, but incredibly thoughtful in its reflections on time, memory, and how we (unreliably) narrate both what we've witnessed and who we take others—and ourselves—to be. Whether we've lived up to who we want to be in the time given us especially resonates with me. There's this great line at the beginning about how enough time devolves memories into certainty. For a more lighthearted page-turner, I thought Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage was great fun. It's a prequel to his original His Dark Materials series.
If you could have dinner with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and why?
One person I'd like to meet is Raphael Lemkin. He came up with the term "genocide" and spent his life pushing for international laws and policies to manage and prevent war crimes and mass killing. He actively learned from history and tirelessly tried to prevent it from repeating itself, so much so that he died worn out and impoverished. He's exceptionally driven and inspiring.