In the broad, sweeping terms befitting the opening line of one’s teaching philosophy, I’ll begin by saying that probably the one constant of my teaching career thus far has been my abiding belief that writing pedagogy, though challenging to implement, offers the best, most effective training method (or regimen) for student learning. Period. As far as I’m concerned, writing is the critical thinking apparatus par excellence. It is the foundation on which all other disciplines are made possible; it is, if I may be so bold, the operating system that runs the apps that make life what it is. By helping students recognize and inhabit, more or less comfortably, the rhetorical situations that shape and comprise our lives, students develop a more flexible relationship with complexity and contingency, which are essential skills even in the best of times.
In short, students learn how to plug in to the various situations in which they will find themselves beyond college and the classroom (or online) space.
In less grand terms, my pedagogy is always dedicated to sharing knowledge and teaching practical skills of literacy and thinking. I start from the assumption that there are certain skills that everybody on the planet needs to possess. You need to know how to do certain things with information and media in order to be functional and successful. You need to be literate in certain core areas–such as reading and analyzing media and texts of all kinds and in all formats, writing and reflecting to form sound ideas and opinions, and navigating the complexities of the web and the modern infospace. You also have to do the hard work–mostly reading and thinking–that it requires to form an educated understanding about contentious issues and challenging questions. (Simple questions are much easier, of course, but in my experience, these are fewer and further between.)
My pedagogical philosophy also involves exploring the dynamics, difficulties, and possibilities of living in a world composed of commonalities as well as differences. The readings, prompts, essays, and projects I assign routinely engage questions of citizenship, social responsibility, and difference. The courses I design explore the ways in which the past lives in the present and how it affects who we are and what we can become. Indeed, I believe that at their core, the best humanities courses continually strive to attune students to the fact that the present they now inhabit has a history. It’s important to me that my students understand how virtually everything in their individual presents, from the most mundane artifact of popular culture to the most sublime work of high art or literature, can be traced, explored, and ultimately found to be constitutive, in a very real way, of what we are and how we understand ourselves as humans.
Thus, in addition to making sure my students have a firm grasp on content-based knowledge and writing skills, I also provide them with the necessary tools to map an area of inquiry or a critical conversation. Toward these ends, I endeavor to provide my students with readings, artifacts, and exercises that (1) provoke intense discussions and responses that resonate with my students’ own needs, interests, and experiences; (2) cultivate in them capacities for response, especially in terms of their encounters with others and with challenging texts and artifacts; and (3) expand their awareness of their situatedness in the world.
Given the ever-present imperative to impart marketable skills to students, I believe that one of my primary responsibilities as a teacher is instilling in them an appreciation for how they might encounter, analyze, and intervene in the constitutive forces of contemporary institutions and societal attitudes. Where do ideas come from? Why do people believe the things they do? Our present reality, in significant and often harsh ways, is precisely not of our students’ own making; this is particularly true for students of color, low-income students, transgender individuals, and students from other minority groups. Everyone, regardless of background or identity, can work to become more appropriately, critically, and ethically attuned and thus response-able in this present moment. The work of critical literacy makes this possible.
Still, as anyone who has ever taught a first-year writing course (or any course, for that matter) will likely tell you, none of the above is easy. In fact, like most aspects of good teaching, it’s incredibly challenging. For one thing, the courses we teach are nothing if not “ideas courses,” which is to say, they depend for their very success upon not only students’ capacities to grasp or even recall ideas and concepts, but also to generate their own material, to invent ways of “making sense” and composing a variety of texts (whatever the medium). This makes teaching these sorts of classes fun and interesting, of course, but it also places a considerable burden on the instructor to keep lively discussions going, to continually provide students with a sense of relevance (especially when the pay off is unclear or not immediately recognizable), and to challenge students to meet or even surpass the projected outcomes of the course. Thus, the rhetorical tradition’s richly-documented emphasis on invention forms a major focus of my teaching philosophy.
Here are the courses I teach most frequently at IU Kokomo (since 2012):
- ENG-W 131: Reading, Writing, & Inquiry I
- ENG-W 210: Literacy & Public Life
- ENG-W 215: Intro to Rhetoric
- ENG-W 311: Writing Creative Nonfiction
- ENG-W 365: Technical Editing
- ENG-L 202: Literary Interpretation
- ENG-L 295: American Film Culture
- ENG-L 495 / SPCH-S 400: Senior Seminar in English & Communication Arts
- ENG-G 301: History of the English Language
- ENG-W 500: Teaching Composition: Issues & Approaches
- ENG-W 600: Mindfulness, Misinformation, & Media: Special Topics in R/C