Teaching Philosophy

What do powerful writers know?  They know that personal experience –  each human being’s subjective perception of the world – is the single largest factor for determining how that person views the world. 

What do powerful writers do?  They take their lived experience and, using both recollection and imagination, transform it into words that have the power to compel others to recognize the meaning the author has found and portrayed. 

What do good writers discover through careful examination of their work?  They learn that their claims often trace trajectories unfounded by the evidence provided in their writing.  That recognition often compels writers to seek knowledge from other sources and to revise their original claims, as my students were allowed and even encouraged to do.  In revision awaits transformation. 

            In the classroom, during one-on-one student conferences and through my written and verbal commentary on their writing, I focus my attention on students’ rhetorical agency.  I have designed my course instruction and homework to empower students as rhetorical agents who can choose to employ language effectively.  Even if the academic argumentation does not remain their communication style, my hope is to afford my students the ability to switch codes at will. 

I teach them the strategic benefits of assessing their incomes and leveraging their abilities to employ standard English.  However, it is not my aim to teach them that standard English is superior, merely that it is the dominant discourse of academic and professional settings in the United States and, often, abroad.  I selected the course texts – Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”, Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How To Tame a Wild Tongue”, Mary Louise Pratt’s “Arts of the Contact Zone” and their own self-created primary source (a personal anecdotal experience with a contact zone) – to drive home the point that mastery of standard English is the product of hegemonic forces which are often beyond the speaker’s control.

I try to assure that their experience of our instruction is infused with curiosity of a restless, engaging, probing and even combative nature.  I teach them to be skeptical of all comers; they find their own arguments about language and identity by comparing their experience to that of others, and then read scholarship whose theoretical frameworks encourages the transformation of opinion to argumentation through academic language, concepts and citation. 

To thrive in liminal places with depleted resources, one must be able to be a linguistic crossroads whose purpose is clear to the intended audience: the kind who reads signs.  The texts my students encounter are analyzed based on their design; the texts they produce are also strategically designed to make words be responsive to their concerns.  It is now up to the students to determine what purpose their newly burnished writing and argumentation skills will serve.

As a teacher, I worked closely with students to encourage them to develop their writing as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Many came to my office hours and relied on UW tutors and librarians; I believe they will continue to make use of these rich resources for the rest of their time at UW.  I focused their writing on issues that mattered to them and assigned them writing projects that will serve them beyond the university. 

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