Teaching, like writing, has been a process for me. I learned how to teach and why I teach the way I do through the act of teaching itself. I have taught and then have revised how I have taught after every semester of teaching English and Women’s and Gender Studies at four different academic locations for more than fifteen years. Teaching is not a static profession for me, but rather in constant evolution. I am still learning how to teach, for it will be a life-long endeavor. At present, my teaching philosophy is one that is laced with elements of both process- and social-epistemic-orientations. I teach critical thinking, reading, and writing skills to individuals with idiosyncratic styles, yet allow them to sharpen their skills and create knowledge together with me in a shared social environment. I teach these skills by keeping three key qualities in mind: respect, response, and revision. These pedagogies and approaches have filled my classes with numerous learning rewards and difficulties, all of which have contributed to my relentless pursuit of intellectual democracy.
The tension between individual and social expression has been a pedagogical preoccupation for me. Over the years, I have learned to fuse both expressionistic and social-epistemic rhetoric. I incorporate informal instructions, individual freewrites and conferences, interactive exercises and discussion, and collaborative reviews and workshops in all my classes. This toggling practice allows me to give students with unique, analytical problems (whether in reading and/or writing) one-on-one attention, yet devote time and energy to group work arrangements for students with multi-varied learning styles. For instance, I can help a student fix his/her comma errors, but have the class critique his/her literary content from several angles of vision. It also guarantees personal agency in the social construction of knowledge. However, I always leave space for questioning, re-envisioning, and destabilizing my old modes of inquiry. Like my students, I acquire, evaluate, and analyze information in many ways in my learning process throughout the semester; thus, I have learned how to arrange my learning environments, establish relationships, and build communities by guaranteeing room for considering new insights not cognizant at the beginning of the semester.
The three-fold, alliterative “respect, response, and revision” paradigm is essential to meaning-making approaches in all my classes. Respect, by far, is my most important pedagogical value. It is imperative for everyone present in all of my classes to respect one another. Respect allows for all students to express themselves in a free, safe, comfortable setting. Disagreements are frequent, of course, but they are productive when anchored in understanding and negotiation. Conversely, disrespect shuts down democratic exchanges, and results in students either becoming abrasive or reticent. Experiences I have had with disrespect come in the following forms: 1) discrimination (i.e., racism, classism, sexism, ethnocentrism, heterosexism, and abelism, etc.), 2) devaluation (i.e., essay quality), and 3) rudeness (i.e., lateness and/or cell phone use). First, I have taught at very diverse institutions, the State University of New York at New Paltz, the University of Maryland at College Park, Prince George’s Community College, Union County College (Elizabeth), Hunter College (CUNY), and Kingsborough Community College (CUNY). I have taught and tutored a diverse student body, mainly populated by ESL speakers. I do not let any student disrespect another student based on his/her race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and ability. etc. It is unjust and undemocratic—not to mention it is oppositional to my own world vision, both in the classroom, the library, and my life in general as a social critic. Second, I do not let any student utter some variation of “that sucked” after a student has read and reviewed his/her essay. I always encourage students to target one area that worked well and one area to work on for each, being sure to offer constructive criticism. Some of the worst moments I have had in the classroom involved teachers offering scathing critiques of my work and my peers’ work. I reprimand harshly in such cases. The intent should be to encourage, not discourage, and expect improvement. Third, lateness and cell phone use are awful forms of interruption; they are exceptionally rude. I do not permit either in my classes, and penalize stringently when disobeyed. Respect is necessary to promote egalitarian learning.
Response is another significant component of my teaching philosophy. I value the politics of critical voice in all my work, whether in or out of the classroom. I am committed to hearing the voices of people who have been silenced—people of color, women, working-class people, immigrants, queer people, and/or people with disabilities—as part of my own knowledge project. I have found that the majority of my community college students taking introduction to composition, introduction to literature, and developmental expository writing (including ESL) have been denied such expression in their high school training due to their marginalized identity locations and placement in courses with overextended, disengaged teachers who do not want to teach. Likewise, I have discovered that the majority of my Women’s Studies students on the university level can neither communicate nor appreciate their distinct voices. I push all of my students to share their opinions, experiences, and insights in student-driven dialogues, rather than merely lecturing them, though lecture also is fundamental to my teaching. I encourage them to understand that response, like respect, is necessary for bettering their lives and the greater world in which they live. Engagement, including that of the teacher and his/her students, is responsible for producing a good quality of education and community. I think learning always should be a fun, enjoyable, and rewarding undertaking for both students and teachers.
Like respect and response, revision is the last integral part of my teaching approach. I am a compulsive writer and reviser. I expect the same level of commitment to writing and revising from my students, as well. I have peer, class, and instructor writing workshops with them for every paper before they are due. Then they submit their peer reviews, rough drafts, and final draft for a grade. If they are dissatisfied with their grades, they can rewrite them for higher grades as many times as they want. The only requirements I have is that they meet with me to discuss their papers, and do not resubmit them all the last week of class. I want to encourage students to strive towards excellence through improvement. The only way they are going to learn how to read and write with a critical eye is by writing and rewriting until their eyes start crossing and their fingers become bloody stumps. I have found that my best students have been the ones who have revised their papers countless times, even if they did not receive stellar grades. They are the students whose writing I knew before their names early in the first two weeks of the semester. I stand strongly behind the idea that you can always work to improve with untiring effort.
My own pedagogies and approaches have been informed by my own experiences and locations. I would not have continued my higher education to the doctorate level without the help of first-rate mentors. It is for both personal and political reasons that I seek to continue teaching working-class students from diverse backgrounds. I want to them to respect their learning process as much as I have respected mine beginning from the same starting point as them. It is part of my democratic vision to create interactive modes of delivery, critical engagement with reading and writing, and an egalitarian learning environment for this marginalized population.