A Teaching and Learning Philosophy

 

I distinctly remember the advice I was given the first time I was called upon to write a teaching philosophy: “Don’t say that you love teaching. You don’t say you ‘love literature’ or ‘love to write’ when you apply to graduate school in English, and you don’t say that you ‘love teaching’ when you reflect on your teaching philosophy.” The ever-dutiful student, I have followed this advice for a long time, but as I close in on my first decade of teaching at the post-secondary level, I feel compelled to resist this bit of lore. You see, the truth is that I do love teaching. Teaching is, without a doubt, what has kept me in this field. The work of the classroom renews my excitement about the discipline, about the texts and ideas I explore with my students, and about the value of rhetorical education more broadly. Moreover, the classroom is regularly a site of invention for me; it inspires and feeds my research.

I believe my continued love of this work is in large part connected to my teaching philosophy.

As a teacher, I believe in engaging in genuine collaborative inquiry with my students, examining real-world texts, and celebrating students’ intellectual contributions

Because I ask my students to attend to the kairos and exigencies of the topics they examine in writing, I believe it is only fair that I work model this in my design of the courses I teach. Therefore, I strive to choose texts and classroom activities that invite students to analyze issues with relevance to their own lives. In my classroom, my students and I bring in memes and Facebook statuses, product packaging and advertisements, news stories and music videos. These are texts that, at first, might seem insignificant or unworthy of some sort of sustained classroom investigation, but my students and I work together to consider the myriad impacts these texts have on our lives and the rhetorical sophistication behind their designs. I believe strongly that this sort of classroom investigation of everyday, real world texts helps students see the value and usefulness of rhetorical education, and beyond that, I believe such work is connected to the public good, that it helps prepare students to be more conscious and responsible consumers and citizens.

One of the most exciting aspects of investigating timely real-world texts with my students is that they often write about issues that have not received significant academic attention. I make a point to explain to my students that they are in a position to make genuine contributions to various disciplinary communities as they respond to issues developing in time, and I invite students to develop projects in ways that might be publishable.

As an example, in my sophomore level composition course on “Online Writing Communities” in 2012, a student analyzed hundreds of online discussion forum posts of the Occupy Wall Street Movement and composed a compelling argument about the ways methodological disagreements compromised the movement’s sustainability from the very beginning. I encouraged this student to situate his analysis in relation to scholarship on social movements and existing scholarship on the Occupy movement, and in doing so, he made a compelling case for the ways that his project made a novel contribution to those discussions.

Similarly, in my “Linguistics and Society Class” in Fall of 2015, a student interested in the criticism of Hillary Clinton’s speech utilized methodologies of Digital Humanities research (specifically text analysis using the programming language R) in order to systematically study how Clinton’s speech differed from prominent male politicians. She then composed a corpus of Clinton’s speech to compare with a corpus of speech from previous US presidents and presidential candidates to examine the extent to use Clinton sounds “presidential.” I pointed both of these students towards potential sites of publication for their work.

In addition to encouraging students to pursue publication opportunities to showcase their work, I make a point of celebrating student work within the classroom. I regularly have students organize mock conferences. Students have to put themselves into panels, propose sessions (often connected to a conference theme), and then we spend several class periods hearing students present on the research they have produced.

It is my goal to have students see themselves as makers of knowledge, as intellectuals who can make active contributions various cultural conversations. I love teaching for the same reason I love research. Teaching helps me see the world differently. My students’ projects enrich my understanding and perspective about social issues of the moment. This work challenges me, and it inspires inquiry. And for this, I am eternally indebted to the work and to my students.