Teaching Philosophy

I believe educators must train students to engage both passionately and compassionately. When I train my students to make arguments about the world, I instead emphasize recognition of and respect for others, never forgetting that argumentation is a human practice. Persuasion is embodied; arguments reach real, live people. I ask students to converse, collaborate, and debate in “good faith.” They should help each other, offering charitable readings of others’ thoughts and works, combined with constructive critiques to improve their arguments and advocacy. My role is to facilitate cooperative learning, offering my expertise and experiences in collaboration with my students. To that end, I cultivate a comfortable and interactive environment, helping students think and advocate critically.

I take a discussion-based approach to teaching, suggesting to students on the first day that their shared experiences are just as valuable as my expertise. When I want to teach a concept, I ask students to reflect on their own experiences and knowledge, so we can draw the concept through lived experience and practical examples. For instance, in teaching argumentation, I ask students to apply theories of argumentation to an argumentative exchange they’ve seen on a social networking site. Students reflect on exchanges they’ve had with their relatives on Facebook or interactions with peers on Twitter. Not only do students better grasp the material, but they better connect with each other and with me when we filter course content through our positionality.

In the spirit of a humanist, I humanize: my classroom is a space for collaboration, not just in discussion but in assignments and activities. The world demands collaboration with people, technologies, nonhuman animals, and materials. I ask students to work with others so they can learn more together. I often have various sorts of group activities, but I don’t frame the activities as preparation for the professional world or for when they “have real jobs.” Group research, presentations, and debates are useful for professional development, but more importantly, they expose students to different perspectives that can challenge and change their perspectives.

As Andrea Lunsford and John Ruszkiewicz have quipped with the title of their textbook, everything’s an argument. Arguments are based in writing, speech, audiovisual media, and networked assemblages, reflecting the multimodal nature of advocacy our complex environments. I train students to identify, critique, and construct these varied arguments with respect, compassion, and hope. I assign multimodal projects and activities in both online and face-to-face courses: I experimented with a Pinterest project in class; I assigned a video in place of an in-person speech; I encourage students to live-Tweet particular activities in class; and I advocate that students keep up with each other outside of class via GroupMe or other chat apps. Political engagement happens in all of these spaces, from Barack Obama’s YouTube chats to Alex Jones’s Pinterest page. I want my students to recognize that arguments are everywhere, and that they themselves craft arguments everywhere they dwell.

As a former participant and coach in competitive speech and debate, I continue to affirm the potential for (com)passionate advocacy to better our shared socio-political environments. We need to dwell together, share together, and argue together, embracing what Jane Sutton and Mari Lee Mifsud would call an “Alloiostrophic Rhetoric.” As a graduate of a liberal arts college and an alumnus of a tremendous humanities graduate program, I understand the power of education to foster not just technical skills but civic capacities, helping students learn together rather than apart.