As a dedicated educator I work to implement a challenging and engaging teaching style that helps students develop mastery of the course objectives while simultaneously teaching students to incorporate the qualities of successful learners, such as self-motivation and responsibility for one’s education. This may surprise students who are expecting Paulo Freire’s banking model of education and therefore, expect me to actively transmit information to them while they passively absorb knowledge. Instead I have adopted Skip Downing’s On Course teaching strategies, which help transform passive lectures into platforms that help students engage with the material we’re discussing. For instance, on the first day of my World Literature II course the students create their own definitions of world literature, and students vote on the definition we’ll use in our class. This initial activity sets the tone of our class, and students quickly understand that they must take the initiative as learners and critical thinkers.
My teaching approaches also reflect my belief that education is a collaborative and social experience. To encourage this style of learning my students work in success teams—small groups of students that work collaboratively together throughout the semester. These teams help to create a sense of community, of accountability, and of ownership of the material we are covering. Success teams work on synthesizing the material in collaborative activities. For instance, in my American Literature I course, my students enacted a court case in which they attempted to answer “the woman question” by putting the new woman on trial. The prosecution represented the traditional role of womanhood in the nineteenth century, while the defense advocated for the new woman. Each team could quote any of the texts on the syllabus as evidence to support their position. Both sides made excellent arguments, citing texts from the Bible to Fuller’s The Great Lawsuit; however, the student jury ruled in favor of the defense, after a particularly excellent presentation of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. All of the students were deeply invested in the activity, and demonstrated effective collaborative skills that help students understand the importance of an interdependent learning environment.
Because I believe that students are most engaged when content is relevant, I work to extend learning beyond the classroom to help students make personal connections to the content. For instance, in my children’s literature class we participate in the ALA Banned Books Week and host a banned book reading. This event highlights issues of censorship by offering students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to read short passages from works of literature that the ALA identifies as having been banned or challenged by school boards or libraries. Even after researching the rationale behind acts of censorship, students remain surprised by the titles on this list, which include classics like Huckleberry Finn and Frankenstein, as well as works of children’s literature such as Where the Wild Things Are and Harry Potter. The students solicit readings from the entire campus, and the community enthusiastically responds. Since the event’s inception, our college president has opened the event by reading from a classic work of literature, and the event closes with an open mic portion of the event, where students from any course may participate. This reading brings the campus community together to celebrate reading, learning, and our first amendment rights. It transforms what could have been an unremarkable lesson in one class into a meaningful learning experience for the entire campus.
Writing can be one of the best tools for students to synthesize their experiences and to reflect on their learning. So all of my classes are writing intensive and depend on the writing process, which includes an emphasis on prewriting and revision. This is why I permit my students to revise their papers to improve their grades. To help students revise, I utilize the one-on-one writing conference. For example, after reading an online Composition I student’s literary analysis, it became clear that the student misread the conclusion of Angela Carter’s “Company of Wolves,” and as a result, her paper relied on an erroneous argument. Rather than simply grading her paper and moving on, I reached out to the student and scheduled a phone conference. During this conference we were able to reread the conclusion of the story together and discuss how her assumption that a story based on a fairy tale would have a traditional happy ending caused her to misinterpret the final scene. Once the student fully comprehended the ending, I permitted her to submit a revised version of her essay. Employing conferences as part of my teaching strategy is one of the most effective methods I’ve adopted to help students discover that writing is a recursive process.
My students also learn that writing has the potential to affect social change. For instance, the tragic Zanesville, Ohio Zoo incident, in which dozens of rare animals were released by their owner, and subsequently shot by law enforcement officers, provided a real-world opportunity for my students to apply their writing and argumentation skills. The day after the massacre many of my students expressed shock and dismay. One student asked, “What can we do?” To which I responded, “write.” In an optional assignment, more than thirty students from three writing classes wrote letters to Governor John Kasich in an effort to seek out a more humane treatment of animals in the state of Ohio. Such activities help students understand that writing is not just “busy work” for English classes, but an important tool that even students can use to voice their opinions on politics and law making.
But the measure of the effectiveness of my teaching methods is that students are able turn the skills they learn in my classes into opportunities for further education and employment. Two of my students turned an extra credit opportunity into a job offer. The students, under my guidance, worked to submit short articles on campus activities to the local paper. The editor of the paper was so impressed with the students’ respective work, that he hired them as freelance reporters. The skills that students learn in my courses have real world applications, and my students know this. As a result, they learn to value literature and writing as tools to make them better thinkers and better future employees. Excellence in education means so much more than delivering content material to students in the classroom. It means teaching the students to challenge themselves so they may succeed outside of the classroom.