Teaching Philosophy

“We require an education in literature,” Richard Howard argues, “as in the sentiments in order to understand that what we assumed – with the complicity of our teachers – was nature, is in fact culture, that what was given is no more than a way of taking.” My teaching philosophy similarly hinges upon two theoretical mandates reflected here in Howard’s comment: first, I see my teaching as built upon the exposure, rather than the inculcation, of accepted assumptions; second, I strive to emphasize the idea that all education is, and must be, a “way of taking” – that is, a process which necessitates scrutiny, criticism, and interrogation, and which otherwise sinks under the weight of habit, routine, and ideological acceptance.

It is with this kind of scrutiny in mind that I view adaptability as the bedrock of my educative practice. I am constantly soliciting feedback and evaluation from my students: for instance, in ENGL 428: Digital Humanities, an upper-division methods course that I am currently teaching, I began the semester by posting the syllabus to our course blog, which I designed using the CommentPress theme for WordPress. Kathleen Fitzpatrick developed CommentPress in an effort to democratize the peer review process in literary study, as the theme itself allows users to comment on individual parts (sentences, paragraphs, headings) of a given document. I invited students in ENGL 428 to begin the semester by reading and commenting publicly on the syllabus using the built-in comment function. Doing so, I hoped, would help them to see the syllabus as a work-in-progress and as subject to change and amendment; at the same time, it modeled a process of textual engagement that students would continue to employ throughout the rest of the semester (commenting on their peers’ responses and work).

I aim to foster an adaptive and openly experimental environment in my classes and seminars. One thing that is constant about my teaching, however, is my insistence upon writing: because I know that writing takes both time and practice, I usually require one piece of writing – sometimes completed at home, sometimes completed in class – from my students every day. These assignments are designed to combat evasiveness and to permit students the opportunity to know a text well enough to make solid analytical claims about it. This means that I see texts – and that I ask my students to likewise see them – as social, cultural, political, and above all, human objects which may not fully exist apart from these contextual considerations.

My job as an educator, though, also requires me to face the reality that texts are no longer confined to the written page. A central component of my pedagogical practice revolves around facing the challenges and merits of contemporary digital literacy: I start by acknowledging, on the one hand, the skills that students bring to the classroom as consumers and producers of modern digital media. However, I also strive, on the other, to engage and build upon those preexisting skills. I encourage my students to see writing as part of a matrix of textual production, and to extend their thinking about that production both beyond the classroom and beyond the term paper. To this end, I have overseen student projects that have resulted in short films, in born-digital exhibits, in visual or graphic representations of textual themes or ideas (including infographics and data visualizations), in games (both digital and analog), and in both digital and print-based bibliographies and curated collections of texts.