Teaching Experience and Philosophy

  Leading a review session with political theory students, May 2017

Leading a review session with political theory students, May 2017

I have honed my teaching techniques through varied professional experiences, including some 13 semesters working with a diverse group of Berkeley undergraduates, three semesters working with Harvard undergraduates, and four summers teaching advanced high school students from around the world at Stanford University. Before pursuing my Ph.D., I spent five years as a lawyer, after first working in journalism and publishing — experiences which taught me to value clarity in communication of all kinds. Because I consider political and legal ideas so important to a complete education and to society as a whole, I labor to make them accessible. Texts may seem inscrutable because they were written hundreds or even thousands of years ago, in language foreign to modern ears, or because authors write for a narrow audience, using words and phrases few students understand. The challenge is especially daunting today, when students of all ages are accustomed to constant distraction and stimulation, and unused to giving sustained attention to anything difficult. In the face of such challenges, I work to break down complicated concepts into plain language, making connections to students’ daily lives and to current world events as the semester progresses. Especially when introducing a thinker or idea, clear language can be the difference between bringing a student on board or alienating her or him from the conversation. I also aim to cultivate habits of thought conducive to active, engaged and reflective citizenship. My hope is that students will be eager to continue discussing and applying the political and legal ideas I have taught them long after our work together has concluded.

Teaching Fields and Potential Courses
History of Western Political Thought (Ancient, Renaissance/Early Modern, Modern)
Contemporary Political Theory
Democratic Theory
Law and Politics
The Rule of Law
Theories of Justice
The American Legal System
U.S. Constitutional Law
Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (including gender and sexuality)
Campaign Finance and Strategy in the United States
Classical and Contemporary Theories of Political Economy


Comments from Selected Student Evaluations
As Instructor of Record for "Wealth and Democracy in Political Thought," Summer 2016
■ “Honestly I was really dreading spending my summer taking a theory course but it turned out to be one of my favorite courses in political science and in general here at Cal. Professor Upton did a fantastic job of tying in current events in politics to political theory and getting students to engage in discussion; the integration of different types of media/angles through which to think about the topic of economic inequality kept me curious and entertained. I feel a lot more knowledgable and passionate about this topic having taken this course.”

■ “Every theory class I have taken in the past has been very dry and this class has by far been the most interesting one. The professor was VERY engaging and he connected it to issues that are very relevant today. Definitely would recommend to my friends.”

■ “The structure of the material is fantastic. The lectures are all informative and make the concepts of the readings easy to grasp. The ideas were reinforced amazingly well by educative or demonstrative videos and knowledgable guest speakers from relevant fields.”

As Teaching Assistant for "Introduction to Political Theory: What Is Political Freedom?", Spring 2017
■ “Geoffrey Upton is without a doubt the best GSI [TA] I’ve had in Berkeley. He is very organized and knows the material very well. He incorporates the professor’s understanding of the material but also encourages us to be creative and think for ourselves."

■ “Geoffrey is excellent at engaging the class in an interesting way that doesn’t feel tedious. Too many other GSIs seem perfectly happy with half-answers and uncomfortable silences, while Geoffrey actually works to get everyone involved. He’s very good at explaining material and playing devil’s advocate when necessary.”

■ “I appreciate how Geoff challenges us to think beyond what we may think about the text. Geoff makes us think about how the course material is brought into everyday life.”

■ “Awesome GSI! Very engaging and cares a lot.”