Department of Political Science
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs
Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award is sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center. Gordon Silverstein received the award in 2008.
Research and teaching are not only compatible; I believe they are mutually beneficial. I am a better teacher because of my research, and a better scholar because of my teaching. My own dissertation first took shape when I developed a syllabus for a Junior Seminar that I was selected to teach as a Graduate Student. I continued to teach that course as I wrote my dissertation and extended and developed the arguments, honed, tested and challenged in those seminars, into my first published book. My second book (published this year) is in many ways the product of the ideas I have been grappling with, and lecturing and debating with undergraduates and GSIs in my courses on American Constitutional law; and my current work in comparative constitutional law (which will be the subject of my third book) has been advanced considerably by the chance to try out some of the ideas in undergraduate and graduate seminars here at Berkeley.
And so I teach for selfish reasons. I learn from my students: The insights I have gained, the preconceptions I have been forced to challenge, and the work I feel I have to do in each class to clearly explain terms, concepts, contradictions, to push and challenge my students, and to force them to think through concepts and arguments on their own, rather than merely dictating to them the arguments I want to see — all this has been and continues to be immeasurably helpful to me as a researcher and writer. And teaching is great fun. You can actually see the results. These are all lessons I try to pass along to the GSIs with whom I teach.
Sections are essential in pushing undergraduates, challenging them, forcing them to think on their feet, support their assertions and defend their arguments. As important as it is to explain the substantive material, I also realize that long after case names, doctrinal disputes and theories of interpretation are long forgotten, what will be remembered are the skills in close, careful and critical reading, analytic reasoning and succinct writing that are really the subjects of these courses. And in teaching these, the GSIs play an absolutely essential role.
As important as the sections are for the undergraduates, they are equally important for the Graduate Student Instructors. Teaching is a craft — and a craft can only be learned and perfected by practice. This means they need to be involved in every aspect of the course, from the reading list to the essay questions, to building the exams — and then sitting down after to figure out what worked and what did not, and why; what could be done differently, what should be included or explained more carefully. I learned the craft from superb and dedicated teachers who were also among the most accomplished academics of their generation. Teaching for them provided the model I have followed ever since, and, I might add, some teaching and lecture notes that can still be discerned in my courses today. And just as I learned the craft from them, I try hard to teach that craft, to provide the opportunity and support for the GSIs who teach with me, to help them learn to perfect their own craft, and to realize and understand how important teaching can be for their own research — and that it can also be tremendously enriching, tremendously rewarding, and a whole lot of fun.
But I also have selfish reasons for working closely with GSIs: They eventually become collaborators and colleagues. I learn from them, and continue to do so long after they are off on their own, teaching their own (and often very different) versions of these same courses, and pursuing their own research. I have been incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to work with so many of what I know are the best GSIs the Political Science Department has to offer. I am delighted that they feel they have benefited from this experience. I certainly know I have and will continue to do so.