Plenary One: TLC Staff

June 1, 2020

In light of the events of the past few days, this morning’s opening plenary session is cancelled. The staff of the Teaching and Learning Center does not feel comfortable asking students to assemble without creating sufficient space for reflection and processing of our collective trauma.

Instead, please read the orienting information below, by TLC director Luke Waltzer, and explore the linked talks. You will receive a follow up email from your seminar facilitator. Institute seminars will begin, as planned, tomorrow.


I’d like to welcome you to the 2020 Teach@CUNY Summer Institute.

These are extraordinary and severely traumatic times.

Even before this weekend—and the rebellion in defense of Black Lives and nationwide police riot that we’re now in the middle of—I have to confess that I was struggling to find the proper tone with which to open this event.

In past years at this Institute, we’ve started by welcoming first year Graduate Center students into a community of scholars who have the opportunity and responsibility to teach and learn with CUNY undergraduates. Before the opening plenary, we’ve all been in a room together, mingling, drinking coffee, chatting. There’s a nervous energy and excitement about the day and the new responsibilities that await, and the opening plenary has focused our attention on the work ahead. The plenary has established community within the Institute, and launched the intense process of learning together that we soon began.

All of that is changed this year.

I can’t see you.

We haven’t mingled.

You aren’t all holding the really nice water bottles that we bought for you—and which you’ll be able to get once we are back in the Graduate Center.

We’re all balancing uncertainty in our work and in our lives, loss, and dealing with complex trauma in multiple ways. And so are the students that we’ll be working with this fall, and the communities from which they come. Often, much more directly and intensely than us.

Each of us is building our lives and careers in a city that has been upended first by a virus, and, over the past few days, by a surge in racist state violence.

The virus rages on, and the uncertainty only intensifies.

In the best of times, teaching at CUNY is challenging. But this moment is unprecedented.

We at the TLC want to be clear about what our intent is with this Institute, and about the support that we can offer. But as we do that we also want to try to be clear about our limitations, about what we can’t do. The rest of this talk will be about how context, commitment, and community shape our approach to this Institute, and then I’ll walk you through the Institute in a bit more detail.


We at the TLC begin our considerations of what it means to teach at CUNY by grounding our work in the context of the university, in its past and present, and in thinking through how both we and our students fit within that story. Here, I want to draw your attention to the work of four CUNY scholars who’ve spoken at previous Teach@CUNY events. Recordings of those talks are available on the Institute’s website, and I urge you to take the time to watch those talks over the next few days.

The first is from Steve Brier, a faculty member in Urban Education here at the Graduate Center, and a well-known labor and digital historian. Steve is also the preeminent historian of CUNY, and his work sets the contemporary university in the role the institution has long played within the city of New York. Founded in 1847 to serve “the children of the whole city,” CUNY has always been an institution where New York City’s identity, conflicts, and culture are manifest. This is as true now as it ever was, and understanding that history can unlock a richness in your classrooms that would otherwise prove elusive. Steve’s talk, “Why CUNY Matters,” ground us in that history.

Mariana Regalado, who is the Head of Information Services at Brooklyn College, and Maura Smale, who is the Chief Librarian at New York City College of Technology, have for several years been researching the technology and study habits of CUNY students. We often speak of CUNY students as abstract representatives of New York City’s working-class population. Maura and Mariana’s work, done as ethnography and presented in a talk “Understanding the Whole Student,” brings student experiences to life, and expands our thinking about the spaces in which learning happens on and beyond our campus.

Natalia Ortiz, who graduated last year from the Graduate Center with a Ph.D. in Urban Education, has taught in both New York City high schools and at CUNY. Natalia thinks deeply about our role as educators, how we balance our responsibilities to our disciplines, to our students, to our communities, and to our values. Her talk, “‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for… ‘: Perspectives from a Mother Scholar Educator Activist” provides one model for the process of growth that you are all beginning today. You’re each starting a journey in which you will synthesize your identity as an educator with your identity as a scholar. Over the next few years, as you teach more and more at CUNY, you’ll have the opportunity to think about how you yourself balance your values and commitments.


Pursuing a Ph.D. is not easy. Being a graduate student in New York City is not easy, either. All of this was true a year ago, and it was true when I was a graduate student over ten years ago. It’s surely not going to be any easier next year, or in the semesters that follow.

You’re all here because of you are committed to the disciplines in which you’re studying. This commitment was evident to the programs at there GC that admitted you. That commitment was surely tested during your first year at the Graduate Center, and it’s evident in your attendance at this Institute. And, commitment will be necessary for you to succeed and grow as a college professor and scholar. The work you do as a professor, starting this fall, gives you an opportunity to define that commitment in ways that are meaningful to you.

For the most part, those in attendance at the Institute will be the instructor of record in their own courses. You will have significant say over what’s taught and how, and what students learn about your discipline from your time with them. This is a profound responsibility, and it’s not supposed to come easily. It will take time, experimentation, mistakes, and effort to figure this all out. As you start this journey, I urge you to take the challenge of defining and thinking intentionally about your commitments forward with you, and as you make decisions big and small about your research, your life, and your teaching, to ask yourself, what commitment is this choice serving?


Too often graduate student instructors feel alone in their teaching. The structure of your appointments—to campuses where you may have few other relationships, at times where the only people you see who you know may be your students—reinforce this feeling of solitude. That isolation has been accentuated for many, no doubt, but the abrupt shift to distance learning these past few months.

Some of you know what you’re teaching and where. Some of you, unfortunately, don’t know this yet. Some of you may not find out until later in the summer. All of this is to say that teaching at CUNY, especially as a contingent faculty member, is often a chaotic experience done under far less-than-ideal circumstances. You will, no doubt, learn more about this in the coming semesters.

In addition to an understanding of context and focus on commitments, a sense of community can help guide you through your work teaching at CUNY.

Community is present in a variety of ways in our teaching. You’ll find that if you can nurture a sense of community within your classes, the connections students make with their learning will be stronger. Thinking about how your work fits into the communities within your discipline, at and around your campus, and within your programs here at the Graduate Center can help guide the decision making you’ll need to do as an instructor. And, organizing communities of practice and reflection is absolutely vital for finding inspiration, new ideas, and support as you move forward in your teaching and scholarship.

The Teaching and Learning Center supports students from 31 doctoral programs teaching across eleven senior colleges in more undergraduate programs than we’ve been managed to log. While we have stronger disciplinary knowledge in some areas than others, what I think we’ve been pretty good at is building community, and connecting that effort to what happens inside our classrooms.


I want to introduce the TLC team, who will be available to you throughout this Institute and the summer to help you get ready for the fall.

TLC Staff
Asilia Franklin-Phipps, TLC Post-Doctoral Fellow
Kaitlin Mondello, TLC Post-Doctoral Fellow
Luis Henao Uribe, TLC Humanities Scholar
Laurie Hurson, TLC Open Educational Technologist
Avra Spector, TLC Fellow | Comparative Literature
John Zayac, TLC Fellow | Earth and Environmental Sciences
Mei Ling Chua, TLC Fellow | Environmental Psychology
Sakina Laksimi-Morrow, TLC Fellow | Urban Education
Talisa Feliciano, TLC Fellow | Anthropology
Kyueun Kim, TLC Fellow | Theater
Inés Vañó García, TLC Fellow | LAILAC
Cristine Khan, TLC Coordinator | Sociology

TLC Summer Peer Mentors
Fernanda Blanco Vidal | Environmental Psychology
Lindsey Albrecht | English

Orientation to the Institute

Overall, the goal of this institute is to help you each build a foundation upon which you can grow as a teacher within the CUNY context. We want to model for you not only approaches to teaching, but also questions for reflecting upon and building our pedagogy over our time teaching.

The Institute has never been about preparing attendees for a specific course, or a specific semester, but rather about facilitating the kind of thinking that can allow attendees to grow and evolve as educators who are able to think and move nimbly across context.

As we’ve redeveloped the Institute in this online format, in response to our public health crisis, we’ve felt some pressure to focus heavily on the fall semester, and heavily on the skills and tools of online teaching. I want to be clear that we have resisted this. Though it is likely that you will be teaching online in the fall, you may not be. Or you may be online all year. You may be in person at points. After next year you may be in person, or you may have the opportunity to move between modes. We just don’t know.

As a result, we have remained committed to the notion of pedagogical foundations, while increasing the attention we pay to online instruction throughout the Institute. I do want to be clear, though: this Institute is not about online teaching. We will talk very little about Blackboard, which is only one tool to think about when teaching online courses. You will have opportunities on the campuses where you are teaching to access Blackboard training, and training in the other technologies that may be used. We can help connect you to these trainings.

The work that we do, however, is much more focused on the why you do something than the how you do it. You’ll find, as you grow as a teacher, that if you have strong answers for why you are doing something, it will become easier and less daunting to figure out how you should do it.


You’ve all been assigned to a seminar, which will meet twice a week for the next two weeks, and once a week for the two weeks after that. The seminar is at the heart of the Institute, with small, interdisciplinary groups designed to build community centered around the experience of teaching as graduate students in CUNY. The seminar introduces and models teaching strategies and tools that participants can adapt to their own needs and contexts, and which are applicable across modes of instruction. The seminar begins broadly with core principles of teaching and then explores ways to enact those commitments in course design and planning.


Plenary sessions are all-group gatherings that will expose Institute attendees to the range of ways that folks at CUNY think about and discuss teaching and learning.


On June 15, the TLC will open several workshop pages on the Institute website that will offer deeper dives into areas of interest, strategies, tools, and methodologies. These workshops are designed most for attendees to take at their own pace, though each workshop will feature opportunities for attendees to get feedback on thinking they produce. Workshops will remain open and supported throughout the summer.

TLC Chats

TLC Chats will be informal spaces that the TLC will launch to facilitate dialogue and connection around elements of our teaching, such as specific campus cultures, teaching in your disciplines, etc.


All Institute attendees should join the institute Slack space, if they’ve not done so already. This space will be used to share resources and facilitate dialogue throughout the Institute, within and across seminars and plenaries. It will also be used to announce TLC Chats. If you are having trouble accessing Slack, please let your seminar facilitator know.


All Institute attendees who complete the seminar, two workshops, and meet with a TLC staff member in August will be eligible for a $250 stipend. TLC staff will follow up with pertinent information.


Q&A for this session will take place on the #General channel on the Institute Slack space.

Stay safe, everyone.