TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

For me, teaching—like writing—is often contradictory. It’s structured but messy, in turns thrilling and challenging, and no matter how carefully planned tends to surprise. With that in mind, I approach my teaching with the same qualities I ask from my students: compassion, tolerance, creativity, diligent effort, an open mind, and most of all, willingness to learn. My practice is student-centered and holistic, underpinned by three main beliefs: 1) learners learn best when they are engaged in their own learning process; 2) peer learning benefits learners of all ability levels; and 3) learning thrives in a safe, inclusive, and stimulating environment where all voices are valued and heard. 

I use a constructivist approach in course design that supports students wherever they are in their learning journey: a scaffolded, flexible process of self-reflection, individual conferences, peer workshops, vigorous research, and multiple drafts. A strong believer that students should be introduced to literature that speaks to them, from writers who inspire them, and in whom my students can see themselves reflected or encounter different perspectives, I teach thought-provoking, diverse readings, particularly from underrepresented and marginalized voices, exploring social and local contexts and links with the students’ own lived experiences, and whenever possible, I tie our coursework to the local community. For example, in my “Imaginary Cities” course, my students explored our city in teams and wrote a collaborative paper analyzing what they saw through three critical theories on gender, segregation, and militarization.


My Writing Center work has equipped me with a wealth of research-backed techniques for helping students develop and hone their ideas, including reverse outlines, thought maps, and audio recordings as they explore their thoughts aloud. I share clear goals for each assignment and target my feedback to those goals, using formative assessments to identify and address any learning gaps. One way I do this is through response letters, where I write a letter to the student, pointing out a few key strengths and challenges in their paper and asking questions to help them develop their ideas; in the next draft, the student responds to my feedback, explaining what they changed in their revision, and what they still struggled with. I check in with questions such as: What is working well for you in this class? What could be better? What can I change to improve your learning? What can you change to improve your learning? 

I am also a passionate advocate for collaborative learning, and peer workshops, student-led discussions, class debates, course wikis, and group projects figure prominently in my courses, informed by my experiences developing and leading two successful peer tutoring programs. Peer learning not only improves confidence, self-awareness, academic professionalism, and social and communication skills, but also supports diverse points of view. The benefits of peer learning are not limited to students—I warmly welcome colleagues into my classroom for observation, collaboration, and feedback, and am quite happy to reciprocate. One of the best suggestions I gained is that the first and last few minutes of class are in many ways the most critical. For this reason, I open every session with a tone setting exercise, such as a compelling question to freewrite on or discuss in pairs. The last few minutes of class end with an opportunity for students to submit anonymous questions or feedback on notecards.

My favorite tone setting activity begins on the very first day of class. I hand each student a blank sheet of paper and ask them to write a sentence that begins with “I am.” At timed intervals, they rotate the paper to a neighbor and start a new line with “I am,” creating a list of sentences that grow into a kind of poem. I collect the papers, type them up, and at the start of every class, we begin by reading one of these “poems” aloud. Each poem tends to evolve into its own entity, cohering as something absurd or hilarious or surprisingly vulnerable—and without fail, my students are delighted by them (as am I). I like this activity because it builds community; it becomes our daily ritual, one that we look forward to at the start of every class and that belongs to us alone. In many ways, it’s also a metaphor for what I aspire to do in my teaching: like the poems, each class is comprised of a collection of unique individuals, coalescing together in unexpected ways. I try to guide and inspire and challenge my students, but their learning remains their own. 

Finally, what’s also true for writing and for teaching is that making mistakes can be the best way to learn. I’ve made my share of errors along the way and I’ve learned from them, growing as an educator every year. And every year, I still feel butterflies at the start of a new term; I still approach each class with excitement and hope, each new essay with anticipation. I’m still delighted by a good class discussion and exhilarated by a great one; I still mull them over afterward hoping to make the next one even better. I’m often surprised by my students—but I am always humbled by their trust, moved by their willingness, and immensely proud of the progress their hard work earns them in the end. For me, this is teaching’s best reward.

 
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