My teaching is deeply informed by my belief in every students’ ability to learn and grow. Because I also believe that every student is spectacularly unique and that it is near impossible to know another’s learning process, I know I need to be familiar with many pedagogies in order to support my students in their learning and growing. I think of myself as a guide who helps facilitate my students’ learning-journeys.
Knowing the use and importance of multiple pedagogies makes this document uncomfortable for me to compose. I fear boxing myself in when I explain how I teach. Since I have primarily taught first-year composition, I think it is my responsibility to help students achieve a solid knowledge of discourse communities. In that sense, I appreciate social constructionism and the work that people like David Bartholomae do in navigating how to have a writing classroom with high standards. I am also aware, though, of the dehumanizing aspect of a focus on standards. To resolve that, I turn to expressivist pedagogy like that of Peter Elbow. This pedagogy is especially helpful in a classroom full of burgeoning young adults seeking to create personal identities.
I combine these two pedagogies in order to lovingly expect great work from my students. I structure my writing classes in such a way that I immediately start referring to my students as writers. In fact, in the first email I send out before class has started (and all class-wide emails thereafter), I address it to my students as “Writers.” Addressing my students as already writers allows me to pitch the concepts I teach in the course not as the definitive way to good writing but as strategies they can use to improve their writing. When I teach freewriting, for instance, I am sure to tell them that it is not something I expect all of them to do before (or during) every assignment, but, I tell them, it is a helpful strategy to alleviate writer’s block.
While helping my students sharpen the tools in their writing toolboxes, I also find ways to build community in the classroom. I have my students regularly share their writing and comment on their peers’. This sharing helps my students begin to understand the peer review process for essays as a process through which they can observe other models of completing the assignment.
Lastly, it is extremely important to me that students are offered and develop mechanisms for transferring what they learn in my class to both their academic lives outside of my classroom as well as their nonacademic pursuits. Sometimes, this means changing requirements of assignments. For instance, I teach MLA formatting because it is the formatting system with which I am most familiar and because most first-year students have not chosen a major, but when I taught a nursing learning community, I told my students it would be in their interest to try to use APA since their discipline uses APA over MLA. Several of my students took me up on that suggestion and told me they greatly appreciated learning to use a formatting style they would use in their discipline.
Teaching, to me, is a dynamic relationship. I can plan what I think is a sophisticated lesson but it means little if my students are kept from learning the content because of frustration or feelings of helplessness. I need to be able to respond to my students in a way that reminds them of their worth. And so, I remember to be kind when criticizing a student’s writing or study habits.