My educational experience in poetry, education, rhetoric, and composition studies, converge in my teaching style, classroom practice, relationships with students, and overall teaching philosophy. To each classroom I bring influences from my own teachers and mentors, and I hold myself to the high standard of not only learning facilitator, but also as model for my students. I remember the teachers I had growing up and as an adult; from them I gained valuable content and information, but I also learned what it means to be and live as a writer. I hope to instill in my own students the idea that writing is not just a classroom activity, but a life necessity that is important beyond its ability to get them through college – it’s important for its power to help them through life.
I’ve always thought of my job as a teacher as providing opportunities. I tend not to lecture since I believe that it’s not my job to ‘impart wisdom’ as if I have all the answers. Instead, I create opportunities – situations where students can show what they already know, and then hopefully teach this knowledge to each other. And, when there are weaknesses, I step in to create opportunities where the students can teach each other, by having them exchange questions, participate in online discussions, and seek answers using their own resources.
Although intellectually curious and an avid reader of rhetorical theory and composition studies, I remain always with my attention on my students. This is not to say that I don’t believe theory to be useful, because I do use theory in my classroom and in developing my own teaching methods. And, I’m interested in how I as a writer can use rhetoric as action and as a vehicle for change. However, I am most excited by new ways of showing my students how to use rhetoric to improve their own worlds. To do this, I use the classroom as a place to connect the social and political aspects of rhetoric to students’ own life experiences.
As I mentioned, bringing an element of social change into the classroom is important to me. Whether it’s exposing students to unpopular or controversial ideas, or devising assignments that ask students to seek out advocacy organizations or spaces for public writing, I try to bring an element of social action into any course I teach. I find that simply teaching the rhetorical triangle often has an immense impact on students, causing them to read texts of all kinds with a criticality they never had before. They begin to see how texts work and can be worked, and become more interested in understanding the ideology and political and social nature of all types of texts.
In my classroom I try to appeal to all learning styles, simultaneously when possible. For instance, I punctuate a typical semester with ‘revision days’; students bring in a draft of an earlier paper and we practice different revision methods. I offer worksheets and checklists for students who are analytical learners; colored pencils, highlighters, scissors and tape for visual and/or tactile students; audio recorders for students who might want to hear their papers read aloud. I ask students to offer suggestions to the class on how they think these tools might be helpful in revising their work. Revision days occur several times throughout the semester leading up to portfolios, and each time I encourage students to try new methods to challenge their thinking and writing processes. Students then write reflections on the revision method they chose, evaluating the method itself as well as their newly revised draft. They are often very surprised by how beneficial literal cutting and pasting can be, they see new things happening in their work when it’s colored or read aloud to them. I am always excited by how enthusiastic students are when revising in these ways.
Similarly, I facilitate peer response workshops in a variety of ways. The first workshop is usually done traditionally, in small groups with lots of discussion. The second is done more independently in a large circle, each person commenting on the paper then passing the paper to the next person. Another workshop is done online through a discussion board. These different types of workshops help students to realize the different ways they can give and receive feedback, and it helps particularly students who are shy to give feedback by providing a less intimate space. My students often reflect at the end of the semester that they were influenced tremendously by their peers’ critiques of their work, and that they appreciated the chance to hone their own critical skills by reviewing the work of others.
In my experience as a teacher, I’ve worked with many different populations of students. One example of this is my work as a peer-nominated member of the University of Rhode Island Literature TA Committee; I led several workshops required for graduate teaching assistants who were about to teach literature for the first time at the university. This situation was unique in that I had to devise a lesson plan to teach a particular pedagogy, and I had to model that method in my own instruction of it. For instance, in several different lessons on de-centering, I modeled different ways for students to get into groups, complete tasks that require each student to be involved, and report out to the rest of the class. These types of group activities require that students (in this case, the TAs) work together and learn from each other, therefore transferring authority to the students. Throughout the TAs first semester of teaching their own classes, I also helped lead a monthly meeting to address their questions, concerns, and to facilitate reflection. Additionally, I observed their classes and wrote evaluations of their teaching.
My teaching experiences have also extended outside of the classroom. As an advisor to several students at Southern Vermont College, I help students choose classes as well as discuss strategies with them when their grades slip or they encounter challenges in or outside of the classroom. While I originally thought the position would involve mostly administrative responsibilities, teaching was a surprisingly important part of my role as Assistant Director of the URI Writing Center. I prepared a lesson of sorts nearly every week when asked to lead our staff meetings. I frequently surveyed our tutors to determine what they felt was lacking from their knowledge of writing center pedagogy, and then I researched materials in order to satisfy those requests. For one meeting I was asked to lead a discussion about interactive tutoring methods, methods that move away from simply paper and pen. I divided the tutors into pairs and gave each pair a tool – highlighters, index cards, post-it notes, dry-erase board and markers, scissors and tape, blocks, clay – and asked them to try to address common tutoring scenarios using their particular tool. We developed a list of some interesting new tutoring practices and created a resource area in our center where students and tutors can find materials to create more interactive sessions.
I’ve been very fortunate in the last ten years to have encountered opportunities to teach a wide array of classes and work with diverse populations of students. I’ve worked with the university’s at-risk and disadvantaged population in a pre-matriculation program. I’ve created syllabi and managed my own classrooms for a variety of courses in literature, basic writing, first-year composition, business writing, and argument/persuasion. I taught a course on academic writing to education students with special emphasis on controversies in education. I worked with adults on GED preparation at a shelter, and have also taught in a women’s prison. For the past two years, I’ve taught distance education courses online each semester and in the summer. I take teaching very seriously and enjoy it tremendously, and I embrace chances to work with different types of students in different environments.
Ultimately, my teaching philosophy is multi-layered but can be worded quite simply: I want to help students unlock the power of their words and ideas through their writing, to give them the chance to make their lives and their worlds better, and to have their voices heard. All student writers deserve opportunities in which they can succeed at learning how to do that; it’s my job and my privilege to provide them with those opportunities.