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Teaching Philosophy

The writing classroom provides a rare instance of public engagement where students and instructors grapple with civic possibilities. Regardless of the course, whether a first-year writing class or something more advanced, a core mission that invites students to consider the public function of their words and the civic portent of their writing is essential to how I understand my pedagogical commitments. While my teaching naturally changes from class to class to accommodate particular goals and requirements, I ask students to be accountable as public participants in contemporary culture, too, thereby shaping their instruction as something that moves them beyond the pages of a writing assignment and into the worlds they inhabit.

The work of composition theorists like Susan Wells and Sharon Crowley helped me begin to more fully understand the role of public discourse in the writing classroom. Crowley’s focus on how issues are framed within controversial contexts, and her emphasis on the importance of belief and desire in social discourse, helped me better see the complex possibilities available to students whose own interests, I realized, must be summoned in the classroom. Writing for me then became not a series of exercises by which students mastered certain processes: instead it became part of a larger engagement with public culture that included discovery, intervention, analysis, and investigation of the methods of persuasion available to public participants. My developing sense of writing instruction as a kind of public discourse was enabled also by the work of Steven Mailloux, whose arguments on behalf of disciplinary identities encouraged boundary crossings from academe into other public and institutional spaces. Mailloux further deepened my interests in writing instruction as a practice in the “conditions of possibility for exchange and cooperation,” thus serving students by giving them rhetorical strategies to enable their participation in civic culture.

My courses now provide sites of engagement with public discourse on many levels. I invite students to reflect on their many relationships beyond the classroom as they consider how their roles and specific types of participation vary within diverse communities. Early in the semester of my first-year writing course, for example, I ask students to identify those communities most meaningful to them. We discuss how commitments vary according to the group discourse that motivates their participation, and we look for ways to cross the boundaries of their social commitments to understand controversial civic issues within range of broad public possibilities. This is a small step, certainly, in getting students to see how their relationships to public issues can change based on the fluid movements that compose group identities. But it is an important step toward understanding writing as a complex and necessary social activity that creates meaningful possibilities through critical engagement, analysis, and advocacy in both traditional and electronic forums. Assignments in my first-year course introduce students to these different methods of writing by asking them to do significant research summaries, critical evaluations, and persuasive writing. As a teacher with experience with many levels of coursework, I have been gratified to participate with students as we discover the possibilities available to help us see beyond our disciplinary attitudes. By becoming more aware of the force and background of our beliefs, I invite students to begin to assess a topic with renewed interest, thus helping them to reason with the inevitably conflicting realities they engage. This happens through extensive classroom discussion, group activities, critical investigations, and readings that help focus conversation on pertinent issues. We discuss ways to become better acquainted with public discourse, with our situation in it, and with our capacities to respond actively as competent public participants. While I encourage much revision, discussion, and investigation of the possibilities they face as writers, students respond favorably, as one recently announced at myedu.com: “[T]his has been one of the best classes I have taken at UT thus far…. [And] you will probably enjoy attending this class more than any of your others.” I believe this sense of enjoyment comes from the way I ask students to think about writing not as an isolated activity to fulfill a curriculum requirement, but as a process in community formation, civic activism, and public engagement. Certainly, I very much enjoy the possibilities and discoveries encountered in the classroom, for these are meaningful as public discourse, too.

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