The shape of my teaching philosophy reflects the influence of many people over a lifetime of being a perpetual student and now a teacher for ten years. I’m reminded of Jack Selzer’s philosophy that “a good teacher somehow makes the classroom simultaneously ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous.’” The teachers I respect most are incredibly prepared for class yet flexible and confident enough to let go of the reigns and let the class go in productive directions they may not have anticipated. They’re student-centered: they solicit student input to the course; they choose to have confidence in students’ ability to rise to new challenges; and they rely on students’ prior knowledge and experiences to make the course better.
I believe that when students are allowed to shape the content and assignments of a course in a way that’s meaningful to them, when they write for real audiences on topics they care about, and when they know their teacher genuinely cares about them and about the course, it (often) motivates them to care enough to do their best in a class. Regarding this point I think of Kate Ronald’s adage that “students write well about things they care about for someone they care about,” possibly the best advice I’ve ever received about teaching.
We have departmental outcomes, program outcomes, course outcomes, and student learning outcomes; we have review and assessment for all of them. I’m not advocating a culture of assessment for teachers, but a Teaching Outcomes Statement makes a good deal of sense. If I were to include such a statement to students on my syllabi, mine would include the following:
The instructor will:
- Explore, with you, rhetoric in all its forms—alphabetic, visual, aural, digital, in various genres—as powerful, exciting, ubiquitous, even dangerous, a way of interpreting and re-creating the world. I will be happy if by the end of this course you feel plagued—and possibly empowered—by your tendency in your everyday life to rhetorically analyze politicians’ speeches, commercials, graphics, photos, fonts, songs, Facebook posts, Twitter and Tumblr feeds, news stories, academic articles, and unfortunately every discussion you have with your friends and family, and to apply this skill to your career and, more importantly, to your role as a citizen in a democratic society.
- Encourage, require, and teach you to use rhetoric to connect with various audiences about issues you care about using various appeals, genres, and technologies. I will expect you to push yourself to use new technologies to write, compose, and create, and to take risks in how you approach assignments, questions, and challenges the course raises. I will do the same with my own preparation for this course, and, whenever possible, will do the work of the course along with you, asking for your feedback as someone with valuable knowledge and experience to contribute to the class.
- Explain to you the overall course goals, why they’re important to you, and how each reading and writing assignment relates to those goals. I believe seeing the “why” behind each aspect of the course helps you keep your eye on the bigger picture of the course goals and how the course relates to other classes and to your future endeavors. Relatedly, I will ask you to reflect on your own work during your drafting process (you’ll do a number of drafts of each project and get feedback from your peers and from me) and how it ties into the purpose of the assignment and course goals.
- Treat you with respect and as an individual with a history as a student, and as a member of a family, a community, a workplace, and a campus. I promise to care enough about you as a student and your learning that I will put as much time as I possibly can into the course. I will try my very best to push and challenge you when you need to be pushed and challenged, to give you a break and encouragement when you need them, and to have enough discernment to know the difference between those circumstances.