Old Teaching Philo Statement
The Mission Statement of a Jesuit University, Retrofitted
As a practical teacher, I focus on leading students to tangible results in my courses. I do this by offering options for revision of papers and coursework, whether that work is creative or critical, whether that work takes place in a lecture, seminar, practicum, or workshop context. It is important to me to design and deliver classes that demonstrate that full engagement in learning leads to excellence. It is important to me to reward both means and ends, process and product, learning and culmination of that learning.
One of the reasons that I include study of literature and ideas in writing courses and writing “workshopping” in literature courses is to show that reading, writing, and analysis, like other disciplines, are not exclusive. Reading is necessary to writing, just as writing is necessary to reading. Another reason I have for showing criticism, viewing, listening, reading, and writing together is I attempt to model the learning that takes place outside the classroom, among the students themselves, and after graduation. My own liberal arts and what I increasingly consider “liberal sciences” education allowed me to attain those skills in analysis, reasoning, and researching which lead to further skills in decision-making, management, and communication. I try to give my students the same types of tools and trials in the same supportive environment my teachers provided to me.
I teach to continue my own full engagement in learning.
One of the reasons I enjoy writing as art, criticism focused on phenomenology, and the study of language itself is that these practices do not privilege only certain types of experience or people. Apprehension or expression, study of “the career of that struggle” as a being in the world, and practice of reading, writing, and thinking need respect no artificial limits. There are plenty of real ones. “Pushing the envelope” allows people to discover the core values and ethics we hold.
Within and about the academic writing classroom, writers and teachers continually debate ethics, intention, investment, responsibility, and other critical concepts. Recently, an exasperated poet posted, in an e-mail to the always-interesting SUNY Buffalo Poetics listserv, “I suppose I am not teaching writing at all. I am just trying to make my students better people.” I heartily disagree. I teach reading, writing, reasoning (I have taught some math, too), and try to support engagement with community and multiple engagements with art and craft. But even if there are “better people,” how would I be able to make them?
More Teaching Philosophy
Sometimes I feel I teach with rocks instead of with “teaching tools.” Why? Because no anthology, no hopelessly vague “how to write” or “how to read” book by a famous writer, no writing exercise chestnut, no brilliant exegesis of a single poem will kick open the door, turn on the lights, and rummage around in a classroom. There are few answers and many questions in reading, writing, and reasoning, as there ought to be. I do continue to learn about teaching pedagogy, lesson planning, course and courseware development, classroom management, best practices, etc., in addition to continuing to learn about my subject matter. I believe my syllabi and course outlines show that I am dedicated to creating a comprehensive and comprehensible environment for learning for my students, whether online, where this is more difficult (even though I have a level of mastery of the technical tools required), or in person, where I can’t leave and return if I’ve forgotten a dry-erase marker.
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As a teacher, I am academic. In creative writing and reading, I use the three- inch-thick reference work The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. In literature, I choose course books that require an aura of critical understanding to fully appreciate, since these works lend themselves to papers rather well. My course requirements have always been papers or essays. I structure my classes carefully. In critical writing, I try to strike a balance between reading and theory by providing context: ways in which both the skills and the content of the course will prove useful in day-to-day life and more advanced academic pursuits.
Student critical writing and pursuit of the bachelor’s degree means, to me, seeking a continuing relationship to the world through arts and crafts (even the remunerative ones). Creativity, positive reinforcement, skill, etc. can feed that relationship, but passion makes that relationship necessary. How does one allow students to be passionate about subject matter? To be curious? I return to these questions continually.
I am concerned with mastery of subject matter. Literally, I am teaching how to think, how to read, how to write, how to communicate, how to analyze. My subject matter is a process. It is also more than a process. I would feel derelict in my duty if a young student left my Twentieth Century Literature Survey class having never heard of the Modernists, or having never read Kathy Acker if working class feminist experimental fiction was a subject of that student’s interest. While I don’t “teach to test” or standard, I do teach my students about all of the literary – critical terms and concepts on the GRE subject test in Literature. Hopefully, they will never be blindsided by a dactyl. In other words, I recognize standards in my fields and recognize academic standards, and I communicate these standards in the classroom.