I have studied rhetoric and composition for ten years now, eight of which I have also been a teacher at several different colleges. Throughout this time, I have written many different teaching philosophies for different purposes, sometimes for class, sometimes for employers. Many concepts have remained the same: a love for the profession and discipline, a belief in encouraging students as scholars, the importance of technology. And some things have changed or evolved slightly to reflect my own experiences and learning both in my own classrooms and the classrooms of others.
It’s a good idea to revisit our philosophies from time to time, if not for a complete overhaul, then certainly for a freshening up, a new coat of paint that reminds us of the full potential we have to create something beautiful within our classrooms. And of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a current teaching philosophy to share with prospective employers. The following is my most recent teaching philosophy in which I explore my ideas about the profession itself and my chosen field; my approach to my students and composition pedagogy; my commitment for teaching students to thrive in our digital age, and my belief in teaching by example by being a life-long learner. I hope this philosophy will reflect who I am as a teacher and serve as a reminder to myself and inspiration to others.
“If it were possible to define generally the mission of education, one could say that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, and economic life. Literacy pedagogy is expected to play a particularly important role in fulfilling this mission. Pedagogy is a teaching and learning relationship that creates the potential for building learning conditions leading to full and equitable social participation.”
“A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” ~The New London Group
The Teaching Profession
Most people will inevitably find themselves in a teaching role at some point in their lives, in some capacity or another, whether it be for a workshop office presentation, an impromptu cooking lesson at a friend’s house, or a backyard game of catch with a small child. But not everyone will choose education as a profession, and not everyone should.
I believe that the best teachers do so because of a calling—a deep passion for watching their students light up with a new understanding. Good teachers have a love of knowledge and learning that they are compelled to share with the world.
I believe that teachers who do not have the calling or who have lost their love for the profession should find work elsewhere. Our students need us to love our profession, if not always our jobs. They need our enthusiasm. Students need teachers who are answering their calling and who teach for the intrinsic reward that comes with seeing a student grow.
Teaching Rhetoric & Composition
In 1996, Ellen Cushman asked scholars of rhetoric and composition to think about their roles as “agents of social change.” Like Cushman, I believe in the possibility for this discipline to equip our students to not only succeed in their academic lives, but also to make sense of the world around them, their place in that world, and also consider their contributions to it.
I believe that teaching rhetoric and composition enriches people’s lives because it teaches them how to communicate in many different scenarios and for many different purposes. Understanding rhetoric also allows students to think critically about their own opinions and ideas as well as those of others.
I always tell my students at the beginning of the semester that what I will teach them actually has the potential to improve their lives in many areas, academically, professionally, and personally. I encourage them that if they stick with me, and do what I ask them to do, that I can guarantee that each one of them will leave my classroom as a smarter person. I don’t tell them this, but I believe that what I teach has the potential to even make them better people. And in my mind, that’s a pretty good deal.
Teaching Scholars & Life-Long Learners
Kenneth Burke famously asked scholars to consider how we will enter the parlor, how we will become members of a discourse community when we “put in our oar.” Our students must also be invited to the party.
I believe that it is never too early to induct our students into the world of scholarship, and from the first day of class, I encourage all of my students to consider themselves scholars, members of academia, people with valid ideas and important contributions to the topics that they explore.
Having said this, I also believe that students should be encouraged to discover their own research interests and pursue their own scholarly passions in the writing classroom. I often explain to my students that they can write about just about anything they want, so long as they do it with the mind and efforts of a scholar and approach the topic with sincerity and genuine interest. After all, if they are choosing their own topics, there should be no excuse for failing to give their own interests serious attention.
In order to facilitate the engagement that comes with choosing their own courses of inquiry, I give students many opportunities to brainstorm, free write, and discuss their ideas and interests as an entire class as well as in small groups.
I also meet with every student to discuss their topics, assist with finding sources, and chart possible courses of action. These meetings are conducted in short, face-to-face in-class conferences and are also supported through feedback to assignments leading up to final products. I have also met with students in online environments such as Skype and Google chat in order to conduct these student conferences. I also send students words of encouragement or articles of interest related to their topics when I find them in my own reading.
I believe in writing in class and a lot of it. I give students plenty of opportunities to write in a “low stakes” environment so that they can build confidence and hash out their ideas without the anxiety that comes with more formal writing tasks. I tell my students that these in-class writings are not graded for grammar so much as they are for content and effort, but I do encourage them to write in complete sentences and put forth their best efforts in all of their writing, including emails to their professors!
I believe in providing rich, detailed feedback in a timely manner, in letting students know what is expected and when, and sticking to my expectations while also being flexible enough to respond to the needs of the class.
I believe in finding a balance between compassion and authority, and in telling my students what they need to know to succeed and helping them find ways to do so both as individuals and as a class.
I believe in telling students why we do things the way we do, for example the importance of following formats or organizing ideas, because these are real-world skills that will be needed in many areas of their professional and personal lives.
Teaching in the Digital Age
I use technology when I teach and I also adapt to it. Early in my teaching career, when I first began assigning documentaries in first-year composition classes, I failed miserably. I wrote about this failure, what I learned from it, and how I adapted in the Computers & Composition Online article, “Documenting Arguments, Proposing Change: Reflections on Student-Produced Proposal Documentaries.” As a teacher, I have to be willing to take risks and do things differently. I have to be willing to learn from my mistakes, learn from my students, and change my routine, and this is especially true when we are using new technologies to both teach and communicate.
I believe that, as writing teachers, it is our responsibility to teach students how to communicate in digital environments and guide them as they establish their identities as scholars and thinkers in an online environment. I believe it is important for students to start thinking about what future employers will see when they “Google” their name. Increasingly, students will need to establish and maintain their online identities because this will be their resume in the immediate future.
I believe in the use of technology and social media to allow students to become engaged citizens of the world. I also believe in distance learning and the possibilities for online learning to change the face of higher education in the world today. Our classrooms are changing and we must adapt to those changes. We need to be prepared to meet our students where they are. We are living in the digital age, and as such, we should embrace the possibilities and face the challenges that this amazing world offers us as educators and learners, consumers and producers, and national as well as global citizens.
Teaching by Example
I believe in living by example and setting standards for myself that my students can see for themselves. I show them my own writing, discuss my own challenges as a writer, and let them see the personal, human side of myself as a teacher, as a writer, and as a life-long learner.
I believe in the profession of teaching. I believe in the potential of teaching rhetoric and composition. I believe that teaching students how to both read and write digital media can have a positive effect on their lives and the world we live in.
I believe in people doing the work that they love.
This is my teaching philosophy.