Statement of Teaching Philosophy

I teach a range of English courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including Basic Composition, Advanced Composition for Teachers I and II, Cultural Rhetorics, and Histories of Rhetoric. Guided by the aims of critical pedagogy, namely, student empowerment and social reform, in each course I strive to guide traditional and non-traditional students through the process of “reading with respect.” Reading with respect means approaching new situations, texts, and experiences fruitfully without automatically discounting the instructive value of that which grates against one’s views. Reading with respect also includes understanding that one’s perspectives are only understood fully in conversation with those of others. By teaching my students to read with respect, I aim to encourage their use of invitational rhetorics rather than agonistic ones so as to promote social justice both within and beyond the classroom.

In understanding how individual experience fits into greater communal frameworks, students can learn to be more open to novel ideas, formulate their views in productive ways, and cultivate personal skills that promote productive public discourse. For example, in my basic and advanced composition courses, students learn to craft thoughtful, logical appeals by constructing arguments that diverge from the standard pro/con arrangement and instead illuminate their own methods for formulating views about a controversial topic. As students reflect on which rhetorical strategies sway them and which do not, they soon realize that certain strategies prove ineffective because they fail to appreciate the intelligence or perspective of the receiver. They learn to employ new rhetorical approaches, including personal narratives and a variety of visual genres that persuade without coercion. Reading with respect proves an effective strategy for introducing students to new ideas and outlooks in a manner that demonstrates consideration for their individual points of view while instructing them on alternative modes of composition.

This principle directly guides the way that I teach writing. Being able to see where their multiple audiences are coming from allows my students to draft documents that appeal to diverse audiences. They learn about the highly rhetorical properties of all modes of writing, including those such as technical writing that convey an impression of neutrality. In my version of the course, students work in teams to create a shared “dream project” that serves the public good by emphasizing a humanitarian or ecological goal. Students with different majors must apply acquired knowledge of their respective fields to draft technical documents that are both scientifically and ethically sound. To complete one particularly memorable project, a construction engineering student teamed up with a biology student to research what they would have to do in order to establish basic clinics in impoverished areas; they composed technical documents designed to secure governmental permits, public and private funding, and publicity for their project, as well as prepared a formal proposal that outlined plans for completing the venture in real-time. Such collaborations reflect students’ civic and ethical responsibilities as rhetors within their chosen fields.

Moreover, an attitude of reading with respect informs my own pedagogy by reminding me that I have an obligation to approach my students with appreciation for their individuality. I do not believe in a banking model of education wherein students are empty vessels waiting to be filled, but instead adhere to the principles of a liberatory praxis as articulated by educators like Paulo Freirebell hooks, Antonia Darder, and Henry Giroux. The worst memories I have of being a college student result from being made to feel as though my views had no merit. Furthermore, I believe that the banking model of education fails to account for the experiences that non-traditional students bring to the classroom, discounting a wealth of knowledge that they should be encouraged to value and share with others. Therefore, I respect each student as a unique human being in need of guidance in negotiating new texts and situations. I try to model a critical pedagogy approach for my own students, especially in my graduate Composition Pedagogy course and in my Advanced Composition for Teachers undergraduate courses. And, I encourage my students to formulate personalized theories of education based on real-world experiences that they may apply in their own future classrooms.

If students are to go into the world and make ethical decisions that affect others at the local and global levels, we must foster an environment where they can learn by example to collaborate and deliberate respectfully. Often students enter the classroom with fixed ways of reading texts and experiences, with perspectives informed by interactions with trusted family members, friends, and educators; they may be extremely reluctant to set aside strongly held beliefs that are counter-productive. When called upon to read or write competently about topics that elicit very personal, emotional responses, they may not be willing to engage with ideas different from their own. Yet engaging with others’ ideas is vital to student success both in the classroom and out in the world, forming the basis of an ethical citizenship that is the ultimate goal of education. I believe that learning to read with respect can help to promote this ideal.