Teaching Statement

During my eleven years of teaching, many experiences have shaped my teaching practices. I have taught first year students through graduate students, taught as part of a team, taught in an online/in-class hybrid course, and taught in courses connected across disciplinary boundaries. Through it all I have focused on three core principles: constant inquiry, attention to detail, and individual relevance.

There are few areas of inquiry in which all scholars are in agreement. As such, it is useful to expose students not only to the prevailing orthodoxy, but also to scholars who challenge generally accepted ways of understanding the topic at hand. To that end, I carefully curate readings that provide differing viewpoints on the phenomenon under consideration. I will include, when appropriate, readings with which I disagree and provide them with evidence supporting my stance while still explaining how the author may have arrived at his or her conclusion. As a result, my students are more critical scholars who resist taking information at face value. This also applies to my course construction. I revise my course readings each year, not only to bring in more current research, but also in response to student input and experiences. When a particular reading is beyond the level of the students in the class, or simply less useful than others, I take the opportunity to reconsider that piece.

Closely related to a stance of continual inquiry is an attention to detail. Scholarship is all about the details, and one reason I stopped using textbooks was because important details were often glossed over. In my persuasion course, I had students act out an infomercial in small groups for the final class presentation. Each group was required to create an annotated script justifying each element of the infomercial using current research. Students had to consider the reasons different approaches worked well in some situations for specific people and failed in other cases. These students emerged from the course with more than a general understanding of persuasion theory; they understood how different theories worked together and which strategies would be in conflict.

Once students understand the material and are able to synthesize it, they must learn to apply it. When students are able to apply the material to their own lives, they are more likely to retain that knowledge. When I taught a course in media literacy, I explained that a key element of literacy was the ability to create media messages, so my assignments focused on both analysis and creation. For example, I had students create a “demotivator” poster for one assignment. For the final project, they created some form of parody, but they were required to explain the rationale for the medium that they chose; this helped them recognize the benefits and constraints of specific media forms. When I teach rhetorical theory, I ask students to write bi-weekly reflection papers that apply the readings to their desired profession. The final paper has students synthesize these reflections into a coherent whole with the prompt, “what do people in your profession need to know about rhetorical theory?” My students, both undergraduate and graduate, have been able to create original research and present their work at scholarly conventions.

I ask students to do hard things and they rise to the occasion because I do all that I can to support them and because we are all having a good time in the process. For me, being in the classroom is a blast. I enjoy the moment of recognition when students actually understand the material. I enjoy hearing from students years later that some experience had reminded them of a theory that they had learned about in my class. Most of all, I enjoy seeing each student reach beyond his or her limits to succeed.

Fostering an Inclusive Learning Environment

I have taught a wide variety of students, including non-traditional students, first-generation students, non-native speakers of English, exchange students, and students of different races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. In all of this, my goal is to create an environment where all students can feel included and welcome.

Even before the students enter the class, fostering inclusiveness begins with my own attitude. When I teach my courses in rhetoric and in gender and communication, I ask the students to tell me what’s wrong with this statement: “There is a girl in my other class who is struggling, but I think she’ll make it through.” After many guesses, they will generally give up before I reveal to them that the problem is that I have described one of their peers as a girl. I explain to them that I do not teach girls; I teach women. As such, the first step toward developing a classroom where all students can feel welcome is to consider the language that one uses to describe them.

In any classroom, the foremost requirement for learning is respect: respect for themselves, respect for the teacher, and respect for each other. I explain that disagreements can be healthy, but must be done in a spirit of inquiry rather than attack. With this in place, differences can be discussed productively. Some courses lend themselves to discussing differences, such as courses on gender and communication, intercultural communication, and the rhetoric of identity. In these courses we were able to explore the experiences of those with differing races, ethnicities, social classes, gender identities, and sexual orientations. I facilitated this in several ways. First, I assigned specific readings to raise these issues. Second, I asked students to write about their own experiences and share them with the class. Students rose to the occasion, writing about such topics as +HIV status, LGBTQ activism, race, religion, and class. Other courses tend to require some thought. For example, when teaching the classical rhetoric segment of rhetorical theory, I made a conscious effort to include as many women as possible into the readings.

Closely aligned to the principle of respect for others is creating a safe space for individual change. Some classes, such as gender and communication and intercultural communication, tend to bring deeply held beliefs to the surface. For example, students sometimes express commonly held stereotypes as the norm. When others quickly and forcibly challenge them, I remind the class that we need to allow people time and space to evolve and that there is a difference between attacking the person and correcting the incorrect belief. Throughout the course, students are able to share with each other their differing standpoints and previously ossified beliefs are able to soften.

I am determined to help each student succeed. Some students, of course, will require more help than others. For example, when teaching the lab sections of a course in communication technology, I once had a non-traditional, first-generation student who had been laid off after twenty years of factory work. When he came into my computer lab, he had only used a computer a few times in his life. I invited him to come to my office hours so I could help him in a small group setting. He came every week and I spent as much time with him as with all of the other students combined, but he was able to succeed in the course and developed the skills he would need for later classes.

In addition to my classroom experiences, I have also published work on such issues as mentoring first-generation college students, teaching gender and communication, teaching an all female course in rhetorical theory, and using inclusive language in the classroom.