Teaching Philosophy Over the past year and a half, I have had the immense opportunity to construct various classes for the First-Year Composition at Florida State University. My courses have included: ENC 1102 (Spring ’13); ENC 1101 (Fall ’13); and ENC 1145: Writing About Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In each instance I sought to foster a hybrid outlook toward composition, taking cues from both the Cognitive and Expressivism movements, hopefully instilling a desire to communicate effectively through intelligent language. Many incoming freshman experience no less than acute metaphysical dread when entering into college composition classes. Lad Tobin’s statement that “traditional school has taught them to distrust or suppress” their voice makes a valid, albeit grandiose, point. I feel that critiquing students’ mechanics and errors only supports the “red pen” specter many of them may have experienced in earlier institutions. By paying closer attention to the students’ ideas, I believe I can create an open discourse to aid in their willingness to explore unfamiliar concepts rather than becoming bogged down by an attempt to write academically. In regard to responding to student papers my primary goal is to show support for their process and aid them in positioning that process within the realm of academe; not enforce my own rhetorical agenda. I think it could be easy to rely too much on my own ideologies and use them as a support system. However, my job is not to persuade them that my solutions are the best but, rather, give them the tools to make those decisions for themselves. One way in which I apply this stance toward instruction is by participating in paper-by-paper grading. I have found that many First-Year Composition students feel more comfortable with this approach, as it more closely resembles the method of evaluation that they were use to in high school. For my part, I prefer this method due to the fact that it gives a clear outlook of their projected grades after each assignment so that they may take extra efforts to raise said grade throughout the semester. Also, I give them the opportunity to revise their initial drafts after receiving my initial comments toward a better grade and have had many instances in which improvement has grown exponentially from the initial to the final draft. I believe that this method reinforces my attitude toward writing as process and the chance to learn something about their own habits of revising. When I first began teaching, I found myself reflecting back on the teachers who played an integral role in my own educational career. Each teacher’s personality contained a trait that I hoped to emulate. I tried to combine an authoritative demeanor with an evident enthusiasm that conveyed my passion for writing. Perhaps the most important thing I try to do is to keep composition first. If I am passionate about the subject matter, then they will understand where I place priority in the class: on their work, not on winning their favor. I try to be accessible in my willingness to discuss any aspect of their work, from ideas to concerns. My intention is to invoke a comedic seriousness within the classroom. My previous statement might seem contradictory, but I feel that if I’m comedic in my language but serious in the value I place on composition then I can effectively appeal to a greater range of students.
One issue that I initially worried about and continue to question how to objectively evaluate student work. I realize that students will be writing about some personal experiences in forms like the personal essay and in their journal entries. I tend to root for their experiences but criticize, often too harshly, their execution. I believe this approach is a result of spending the last few years in a workshop setting, where everyone is brutally honest in their critiques. I have to remember, however, that the students I work with have not had the chance to develop the thick skin that comes with going through numerous writing courses. Most were never encouraged to explore the nuances of their own voices, which can lead to insecurity and a disbelief in their own ability. I love the idea of being in a position to affect how students view composition as a means of exploration. Many of the ideologies I consider fundamental to my own experience were only encountered once I began college. The institution is an important arena wherein a person can contemplate ideas beyond what they have been taught at home and in their local communities. Most students will come to the university having never experienced cultures other than their own. I am excited for the opportunity to expose them to different philosophies of learning and living. I believe it is important to express at the beginning of any class what exactly I expect students to leave my class understanding. I understand that many will come into my class without the same passion for writing that I possess. However, I consider it my duty to teach them how to use rhetoric to inform and exercise their own thoughts in a professional manner, whether it is for the institution or future, professional endeavors. I want to teach them skills that will transfer across genres and prepare them for success in their chosen fields. It is not enough to teach them to write a great essay. Many will take jobs that do not require essay writing, but teaching them to think critically about problem solving through rhetoric will, undoubtedly, aid them in cognition and performance. Given the ever-expanding realm of composition into a more digitalized platform, it is important that students understand why and how composition will play an important role in their lives. Many of them are already participating in media communication discovered outside of the institution, and it is imperative that I inform them of the proper ways to convey their thoughts in public domains. I hope that they will see how activities in the classroom can transfer to their real world interactions. I believe in the power of composition in influencing action. Rhetoric is intertwined with almost every aspect of life, and the ability to recognize patterns and reasoning behind rhetorical choices is integral to learning. I want my classroom to be a place where that idea can be explored in a creative and meaningful way. If Iâ€™m a good teacher, some of them might accept this fact to a degree. If Iâ€™m lucky, maybe some will learn something about themselves in the process.