When I was 20, someone asked me what my career plans were. I hadn't known before, but I was enjoying college so much, I didn't really want to leave. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to do. "I want to teach English at a small college."
And now I'm doing what I've wanted to do for so long: teaching writing here at Coe College.
I find it a great privilege to be mentoring young writers. I've thought a lot about how I can best do that, and try to keep an ever-evolving teaching philosophy. Here it is:
In all my classes, I see my role as a learning
facilitator. We don’t become
proficient in Rhetoric--writing, reading, speaking, and listening--by memorizing bits of knowledge that a teacher imparts
to us. We learn by practice how to think critically, find evidence,
make judgments, and communicate in the most appropriate way, writing and revising again and again.
Therefore, I set up my courses, my syllabi, and my classes to give students a guided opportunity to read, write, think, and learn about the topic at hand. My students are urged not to think of their assignments as “homework.” What they do outside of class is their own study of the material—their learning for the course—and we share what we’ve learned in many ways: discussion, on-line forums, and papers.
High and Low Tech
have recently become more aware of different ways to facilitate learning with technology. For example, I’ve been using
more video and interactive materials to present materials or to spark
discussion in my classes. This has
worked very well in Rhetorical Theory where I can come to class and, using the
computer/projector, share up-to-the-minute examples of rhetoric in our world,
like speeches from the presidential campaign, which we then analyze and discuss
in relationship to our readings. In writing workshop classes, students use online discussion to get feedback on drafts, and create wikis and class websites.
However, there are some low-tech approaches that I will never abandon. My colleague and office-mate Deb Wooldridge knows that I meet very frequently with my students in my office. One-on-one, face-to-face conferences are sometimes the best way to help students make progress in writing. One student who met with me this term said “I didn’t understand this when you explained it in an e-mail” (he had declined to meet with me at first, asking for an e-mail response to a paper that needed revision). The face-to-face meeting really helped him, and he seems to understand what’s going on in class now.
A Teacher and a Writer
Being a freelance writer has provided many opportunities for me as a teacher and for my students. I am now more aware of what students need to learn to communicate effectively in their writing for publications. This is especially helpful for Professional Writing, in which students create publications for a non-profit organization in the service-learning portion of the course. It’s helpful for seniors working on their writing portfolios in Advanced Workshop as well. I can share my own mistakes and accomplishments with them, which gives them an insight they might not get from someone who is only a teacher.
I’ve also been able to give my students apprenticeships, so to speak. My editor at the magazine asked if my students would be interested in writing for her—just to get some fresh new voices. I chose two students who I knew could do the work, and they worked on assignment for City Revealed, getting their work published in the magazine last spring (and getting credit for the work in the classes they were taking with me). That’s a rare opportunity and they both found it very satisfying.
For more information about my teaching, see the links below.