Anju Mary Paul
Assistant Professor, Social Sciences (Sociology)
What is special about teaching at the Yale-NUS?
Paul: The common curriculum makes things very special because there is a common foundation that we can assume students have and then we can build on that. And it holds, I think, students more accountable for their learning because in a class, I can say, “Well, you are supposed to know this already because you studied this in the common curriculum.” And then it’s up to the student to go–even if they have forgotten or they don’t quite remember it–the responsibility is on the student to make sure that they have that foundational knowledge and then we can go from there. So that’s unique. The class sizes (which are relatively small here compared to other universities), the mix of international and local students, I think is just fascinating and very rewarding for cultural discussions. And for me, personally, because I live in residence, there are just so many more ways of connecting with students. So it’s not as if I only see them once a week or twice a week. I keep running into them and so conversations become a much longer affair which is really nice.
How would you describe your teaching style?
Paul: I ask a lot from my students and so they tend to write in their evaluations that they work harder in my classes than they do on average in other classes and I think that’s correct. But I also put a lot into my teaching and into what I do in the class. So I expect a lot from my students and I also expect a lot from myself. I find that makes the whole classroom experience incredibly rewarding. I like to make learning as interactive as possible, so there is a lot of devolution of responsibility to each student to find a way to approach the topic or the material in a way that gets them excited about it. So each project will have the ability to be customized to the student’s interest and I find that just raises the commitment level of students a lot.
How do you know your class is going well?
Paul: I know when a class is going well, when you have these moments of flow, a creative flow when there is a discussion that just catches fire and there is back and forth and it is just students talking to students and I don’t need to intervene very much because they are completely engaged with the topic. Not just engagement at a superficial level, but I know that it has gone well when they are bringing in ideas and concepts and theories that have been sowing the seeds from the very beginning of the semester and they start bringing it into their conversations and making those linkages without my having to do it for them. It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens often enough and I always just leave the class on a high when that happens. That’s when I know.
What is one of the biggest challenges that you face in teaching?
Paul: The time it takes. That is, if you want to do it well, you need to commit time to it and if you want each and every student to get something out of it, then you need to customize. But, again, that takes time. So balancing that responsibility with the research I have to do, the parenting I have to do, is hard. Work-life balance is always difficult.