Statement of Teaching Philosophy
In her 2017 Conference on College Composition and Communication Exemplar acceptance speech[i], Deborah Brandt argued that “if you start an inquiry too far away from the basic questions, the results are going to be shallow.” In the time since this speech, Brandt’s words have resonated with me as a scholar, certainly, but perhaps even more so as a teacher. Asking, and lingering on, such basic questions as “what is writing?” and “how and why do we write?” forms a foundation for the undergraduate and graduate courses I teach. In classes where we’re tasked with exploring these basic questions, I encourage my students to welcome new answers, possibilities, and responsibilities, as well as to ask additional questions. Building Brandt’s call for basic questioning, I identify three statement-themes that demonstrate my pedagogical approach across contexts: students and teachers are co-learners; teachers are models of authentic discourse(s); and classrooms are activist spaces. In the sections below, I articulate these statement-themes and share examples of my performance from my teaching experiences across two universities.
Students and teachers are co-learners.
On the first day of any of my classes, my primary goal is that students and I get to know each other. Often charged with learning each other’s names by the end of the first week, if not the first class session, my class begins cultivating its own community as soon as I introduce the course and dive into the course content. In first-year writing courses, we might take part in a group activity by answering a question like “What is writing?” so that we might come to a working definition we can revise—re-articulate, re-see—throughout our semester together. I don’t presume that any of us will have answers to a question like “what is writing” by the end of one class session, but I ask such questions so we might linger together in the messiness of learning.
Co-learning positions students as experts on their own learning and writing, and in teacher preparation classes, their teaching. In learning together, my students and I make ourselves available to expanded notions of expertise, allowing us to question and play with strict boundaries between the student and teacher roles in our class. I challenge traditional classroom roles in all of my undergraduate and graduate courses, for example, by telling students I prefer they call me by my first name. I also perform co-learning by working with my students on projects in and beyond our class. I collaborated with several GTAs from our Fall 2017 Composition Instructors’ Workshop on a presentation about classroom communities for Bowling Green State University’s annual 21st Century Englishes graduate student conference. Participating in my classes as co-learner, I model performance as an academic in the 21st Century by questioning, learning, community-building, and collaborating with my students.
Teachers are models of authentic discourse(s).
When I co-taught two sections of The Composition Instructors’ Workshop at Bowling Green State University, I modeled what it meant to teach writing locally, at BGSU, in our first-year writing program. Such modeling involved the embodied performance of teaching: everything from how I dressed to where I positioned myself in the classroom and how I projected my voice; and it also involved mass-sharing of teaching materials, such as syllabuses, project descriptions, lesson plans, and response to student writing. Performing my role as co-teacher in those courses, but also as peer GTA, allowed me to demonstrate the course content firsthand and show students how to enact that course content in our local writing program.
I see all teaching, from the graduate composition practicum to first-year writing and everything in between, as an opportunity to consciously model the ways of authentic (academic) discourse(s). While teacher preparation courses require modeling of teaching discourses, as I shared in the example above, I also practice modeling in first-year writing courses. For example, I often share my own writing with students for their learning and critique. In my first-year research writing courses, I offer the research paper I wrote in my own first-year writing course as an example. Students and I spend time talking through my paper’s strengths and its areas for improvement so that they might ultimately transfer that knowledge into their own writing. Modeling authentic academic discourse through mentorship positions my classrooms not only as student-centered learning spaces, but as activist spaces, where we imagine, create, learn, and labor together toward common goals.
Classrooms are activist spaces.
My pedagogy is, perhaps above all else, feminist. As such, I strive to co-create with my students classroom spaces—broadly defined—where all voices are heard and celebrated and where we acknowledge the classroom, as well as our university and local contexts, as communities to which we are responsible. I fall back on several feminist teachers for support in my pedagogical endeavors—e.g., Sara Ahmed, bell hooks, Shari Stenberg—but perhaps none as much as Kay Siebler, who in her book Composing Feminisms[ii] provides 16 themes of feminist pedagogy that I consistently use to guide my practice, from syllabus design through post-course reflections.
While I aim to perform all of Siebler’s themes in my teaching, I particularly align myself with this: “Creating connections between learning and knowing and connections between classroom and community issues.” I see classrooms as community spaces, but even so, I recognize that learning is not—cannot be—isolated to one class, one discipline, one university, one geographical or cultural context. One way I practice activist pedagogy is through my assessment practices. Students in my classes will not “receive” grades on their writing projects: they will receive extensive feedback intended to lead them toward rhetorically effective writing. Recently I’ve taken up labor-based contract grading[iii] in my courses—an intentionally anti-racist practice that allows the instructor, me, to take the emphasis off of letter grades in order to move toward true learning and understanding of course content. Such an activist, collaborative approach turns classrooms into spaces where students write with purpose, where we learn and write for change.
Working with Siebler’s themes, I have found that my students and I learn best in classes where we respond to our academic and civic commitments by asking questions and lingering in, problematizing, those questions. When we start small, as Brandt suggests, and seek to learn in order to foster positive change, we are better writers, students, teachers, and global participants.
[i] Brandt, Deborah. “2017 CCCC Exemplar Acceptance.” YouTube, uploaded by National Council of Teachers of English, 3 April 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z_NG1lLov8. Accessed 31 July 2018.
[ii] See Asao Inoue’s work. For example: Inoue, Asao. “Grading Contracts, Laboring to Labor, and Sinclair Lewis.” Infrequent Words, Blogger, http://asaobinoue.blogspot.com/2016/02/grading-contracts-laboring-to-labor-and.html. Accessed 31 July 2018.
[iii] Siebler, Kay. Composing Feminisms: How Feminists Have Shaped Theories and Practices, Hampton Press, 2007.