All teachers were once, or perhaps still are, students. In those years of studenthood, we become conditioned to the classroom. We draw close to the teachers who inspire us and shy from those who intimidate or bore us. We make choices: to rise to expectations, to throw in the towel, or to rest on our laurels. The nature of the classroom is that it is teacher-mediated. As a result, our pedagogies reflect those who came before us—those techniques and approaches that worked for us, made us shine, allowed us to “get it.” I realize that the diversity of my students—whether in personalities, learning styles, or cultural backgrounds—greatly influences my success in teaching them. Our students’ diverse positions in the world can be difficult to pinpoint, and even more difficult to penetrate. It is for this reason that I uphold a kind, reflective, multiple-perspective, student-centered approach to teaching in the composition classroom. My first belief is that the classroom dynamic should be defined by caring. In his 1993 article, “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking,” Peter Elbow subtly concludes: “Good writing teachers like student writing (and like students)” (200). If I am to love my job, I must (at least!) like my students and their writing efforts. In order to communicate enlightening thoughts and write rich texts, students need a comfortable, safe location within which they can critically think and respond. To create this dynamic, I pursue methods of teaching that are personal and reflective. I facilitate discussions by asking for multiple perspectives and opinions. I ask questions that are open-ended or reader response-driven, often asking students to translate or summarize each others’ comments rather than relying on my own analysis of their views. Caring, I believe, is born from interest in and curiosity towards the thoughts and perspectives of others. I trust in the power of curiosity. As a teacher, I am constantly renewed by its caring aspects; when we are curious, we place ourselves in a position through which to understand, to see, to care. As with all classroom dynamics, this must be teacher-demonstrated. By practicing curiosity through questioning and reflection, I invite students to do the same. I wish for this kind of interaction because I believe in the power of communication to catalyze change—whether in cognitive capability or critical outlook. Therefore, in my students’ writing, I look for moments of curiosity—for moments where they allow themselves to ask questions for which they do not have answers. In my syllabi, I always quote Eugene Ionesco’s wisdom: “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” “No question,” I tell them on the first day of class, “Is too simple or too complex. We’ll listen and give authority to all voices desiring to be heard.” I ask students to arrange their desks in the shape of a horse-shoe, so that they can see each other as they speak. I often ask them to share their writing or ideas publicly, with the rest of the class. When they’re finished, I thank them and ask them questions about their process—how do they feel about this topic? How do they perceive their written texts? When they answer such questions, I listen and lean slightly towards them, often nodding or asking for other students’ reflections on the same question. More than anything, I want students to know that I am available and interested in what they have to say. I am invested in their growth and personally energized by their efforts. By practicing this kind of attitude, I hope to better understand the diverse learning needs of students. Our students arrive to us as products of every classroom dynamic they have ever been a part of, and as participants of the one we create anew. In this sense, we as teachers hold the possibility for renewal, the opportunity for creatively reinventing and rethinking our methods and approaches. I believe that teaching philosophies must remain open to suggestion, ready for change and influence. I position my commitment to renewable pedagogies at the center of my teaching philosophy because without new discourses, approaches, and exercises, our classrooms remain the same as our students continue changing.
AboutI am an Assistant Professor of English Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. My research in public rhetorics and community engagement has appeared in Enculturation, PLUCK!, Reflections, and Computers and Composition.
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