Statement of Teaching Philosophy

One semester, a student approached me after class to discuss a novel, brimming with excitement. She wanted to examine a specific passage in Willa Cather’s My Ántonia to probe the mysterious circumstances surrounding a character’s death. Together, we carefully re-read a portion of the text and had an illuminating discussion about what Cather may have been trying to convey, especially in relation to immigrant realities and identities. In this conversation, my aim was to challenge the student to expand her views—to harness her curiosity and deepen it further into sophisticated analysis. As the student left, enthused about the possibility of writing on the subject for an upcoming essay assignment, she expressed hope that we would continue these kinds of conversations as the semester progressed. And so, we did.

 

As an educator, I model curiosity, help students hone the craft of writing, and provide individualized, compassionate instruction. I set high standards students will encounter further in their education and careers and help them reach these standards by creating a positive environment that encourages the development of strong interpersonal relationships and intellectual inquiry. By fostering a strong relationship between the individual and the collective, I aim to construct an inclusive, equitable environment where students from all backgrounds feel comfortable expressing themselves. Ultimately, by creating a rigorous yet welcoming classroom space, I hope to instill in students a desire to learn because the persistent act of reaching for, absorbing, and synthesizing knowledge is crucial to the development of both their professional lives and their humanity.

 

CURIOSITY-DRIVEN DISCUSSION

  

My courses are always centered around individual and group conversations that engage each member of the community. My lesson plans include activities ranging from lecture, class discussion, group-work, testing, mock-trials, peer review sessions, and library visits. To create a collaborative space where students feel comfortable expressing a wide range of ideas, I often begin by supporting individual thought and reflection. I regularly place students in small groups and pose a series of rigorous questions regarding a text. I then allow students to respond to these questions, and visit each group, purposefully engaging with students one-on-one, drawing out responses even from those who are most reluctant to speak. Later, when we discuss the questions as a class, many students, having had a voice already, are more comfortable participating in the larger community.

 

In each discussion, I model curiosity by being present in the day’s lesson, welcoming the exploration of unexpected intellectual and social avenues. I am always in the act of discovery alongside my students, as we pore over the pages of texts ranging in style and substance from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil,” to Marilyn Chin’s “Turtle Soup.” Often, our discussions investigate broader questions that invite mutual exploration, such as: Why are we often uncomfortable with ambiguity? To whom does a play belong—the playwright or the director? What are the power dynamics at play in instances of cultural and culinary appropriation? Borrowing from Jerry Farber, I embrace openness and spontaneity, but do not lose sight of core concepts and course goals. My objective is to harness the collective energy of students in each class period—whether they are abuzz with positive excitement or conflicted about events occurring in their lives or in society—and direct this energy toward the close examination and discussion of literature and its humanistic import.

 

CRAFT AND INDIVIDUALIZED INSTRUCTION

 

Writing instruction is a priority for me, as I aim to equip students with the skills to communicate effectively and express themselves with confidence. My students publish their writing in blog format, compose argumentative essays, and regularly participate in free-writes to learn more about themselves as writers and thinkers and to experiment with different methods of expression. For instance, I often require students to write a poem in the style of the Imagists, and assess their own adherence to the movement’s tenets. One semester, a student composed a beautifully personal poem, and privately shared with me that it was about her father, who had recently passed away, and who happened to dabble in slam poetry during his youth. The student had recently found her father’s journals, and was inspired by his interest in writing to pursue her own—a drive which found a meaningful home in this creative assignment.

 

Throughout the semester, I provide detailed instruction and support via lecture, workshops, and activities centered around craft, and when I speak to students about their work, I see them as whole individuals whose writing can improve quantifiably throughout the semester, whether by refining their ideas, or sentences, or both. In office hours, I work diligently with individual students by applauding their strengths and isolating discrete areas where their writing can tangibly improve. Following Donald Daiker’s pedagogical model, I leave students with concrete feedback tailored to their individual needs and goals, never abandoning the project of praise. I see their movement through the semester as an arc in which they can walk away having grown as writers and thinkers in ways specific to their own personalities and future goals. One student wrote in an end of semester-evaluation: “Oftentimes I feel like literature classes are just reading and writing the same essays at the same skill level. For the first time in a while, I feel like I have taken a class that has truly improved my skills as an analytical writer.”

 

COMPASSION AND INCLUSION

 

Currently, I teach general education literature to non-majors ranging from domestic students to second language learners, to students with diverse identities and with differing levels of college preparedness. Often, students come into the classroom feeling as though they are not good writers or readers, and I emphasize the opposite, letting students from all backgrounds know I see each of them as intelligent, capable, and talented individuals. In fact, I teach close-reading, which is always at the center of my literature and composition courses, by emphasizing that each student has the capacity to reach entirely unique analytical conclusions by examining the details of a text through their singular perspective.

My pedagogical approach, I hope, proves to students that they already possess many of the skills they need to succeed, and that honing their own desire to learn is an asset. One academic adviser contacted me after the semester was over, writing of a student that, “[your course] has really helped her understand she has more skills and interest in writing, reading, and speaking than she previously thought. I think because she’s not a native English speaker she has not been encouraged in these areas before. It was delightful to speak with her today and hear that she's discovered this about herself." These are the types of outcomes for which I strive, where students realize, on their own, the depth of their potential to engage with literature.