Teaching Philosophy

The classroom is a community of readers and writers. As a member of that community, I consider myself successful if I can help my students develop a curiosity for, a competency in, and a love of the use of language. But an active concern with language is more than just a passing interest. Language is power. The way we use words actually helps to create the world we live in.

If I could just feed my students knowledge, my job would be easier. They already understand hunger, its implications and solutions. As a teacher, I must demonstrate to my students both the appetite for understanding, for language, for literature and the digestive skills of interpretation and critical theory, which can satisfy their burgeoning pangs of inquiry.

My aim is to contribute, as much as I can, to the process of creating a deeper understanding of the fundamental and enduring questions that are raised by thoughtful human beings wherever an intellectual tradition is established and perpetuated. Reading and writing calls upon our entire experience of what it is to be human. I encourage my students to question the assumptions they make so that they come to a better understanding of what it means to be a human being. I see reading, writing, and the close attention to details they encourage as fundamental tools in this journey towards understanding the world and oneís place in it.

I teach in a way I expect to be taught by others (in life as well as in letter) not necessarily with flawless efficiency, but with full-fledged compassion and understanding of human weakness. I attempt to create a classroom that clamors with discovery and inspiration. I work to provide my students with intellectual stimulation and salient questions rather than settled answers and with resources to pursue further inquiry.

I believe that one of the primary functions of the English teacher in an undergraduate education is to enlarge the ranks of serious readers outside the academy. Thus, I attempt to connect literature to the important questions in everyoneís life, and I emphasize writing in every course. My courses require students to write essays not just take tests, not only because literature isnít a quantifiable subject but also because the skills necessary for writing a good essay--critical thinking, clear prose, solid argumentation, and attention to complex texts--are skills that can be utilized outside academe.

Students often think that literary interpretation is a personal task which allows for any subjective impression. As a teacher, I must show students why some interpretations are more convincing than others and how one builds a persuasive argument.

I try to convince students that academic dispute--issues of race, class, gender, ecology, and history, and thus literature itsel--are central to their lives and that interpretive approaches to literature are not intellectual games used to obscure texts but are devices employed by all of us whenever we read.

Because writing and reading are social activities, I structure part of the time in class as a workshop, enabling students in small groups to respond to one anotherís writing and to collaborate upon specific reading tasks. Learning is a collaborative process and thus my role is to provide opportunities for students to share in the production of knowledge and to model the skills necessary to achieve this goal. I encourage students to work in groups to help structure a particular class session by raising questions and defining issues for the class to focus on.

My scholarly research informs the courses that I teach, particularly my interests in ecological and feminist studies. I utilize the Internet, course packets, and newly published anthologies to expand the traditional canon of writers to include work from different perspectives previously marginalized, ignored, or unavailable. Yet I do not have students read these texts in isolation but juxtapose the non-canonical texts with canonical voices in order to examine the political, social, racial, and gender questions debated during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. My research on at-risk students, specifically minority and/or first-generation, low income students, has encouraged me to connect the literature in my courses to wider issues in the undergraduate curriculum. Thus students explore issues of racial identity through an historical context, discovering how race becomes defined in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain and how that continues to affect issues of race today, or they discuss the relationship of science and nature throughout history.

Each student comes to my classroom with a unique history and perspective of language and writing. It is my job to help the students discover their voices, build a community of writers and readers, and involve their minds in the pleasures of intellectual awareness. Writing well empowers the student, providing a means to master ideas, explore emotions, and clarify beliefs. I encourage students to grasp the power of writing, and then together we can explore the "best that is known and thought in the world" and come to appreciate the diverse talents and perspectives of our world.