From the outset of my teaching career, my main goal has been—and continues to be—to encourage my students to be active, informed, and imaginative global citizens. At the beginning of every semester, I inform my students that their job in my classroom is neither to memorize facts and figures nor is it to replicate my own readings of texts. Rather, I tell them that my goal over the next several months is to help them develop the necessary critical and analytical skills to confront new and potentially challenging ideas as well as to prepare them to be successful in their chosen vocations. Through a combination of mini-lectures, small and large-group discussions, workshops, formal and informal writing assignments, and individual meetings, I encourage my students to openly inquire and struggle with the paradoxes and ambiguities of life as presented in course texts. My goal is to foment a suspension of closure and foster collaborative work that makes connections inside our classroom to the outside world.
My teaching philosophy has been shaped by Critical Pedagogy, Education for Democratic Citizenship, and Postcolonial Studies as well as my time as an undergraduate at a small Upper Midwest Liberal Arts college, with a strong focus on leadership and social justice. When designing my courses, I foreground texts that present issues of social and environmental justice globally in both my composition, literature, and philosophy courses. For example, I designed Exploring the World to examine contemporary travel writing as literature, which confronts my students with first-person and platial critiques of Western power and privilege, the on-going legacies of colonization, and global environmental practices. Of particular interest for me as an instructor and postcolonial scholar are my students’ reactions to Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place. On the first day, they defensively grapple with the anger with which Kincaid writes about tourism and its historical connection to slavery in Antigua, but by the second day, as we closely evaluate Kincaid’s rhetorical choices, students actively participate in a dialogue about exploitation and the humanity of others. This conversation is greatly enriched as students begin reflecting on their own recent spring break trips or summer travels. This act of reflection reinforces for my students the connection between the work we do in our classroom with their lives outside of the university.
In Global Environmental Literature, I explored new approaches to teaching. This course was necessarily interdisciplinary, incorporating Postcolonial Theory, Gender Studies, and Environmental Studies. We began by reading foundational Anglo-American texts explicating nature, pastoral, wilderness, and the wild before surveying contemporary literature exploring environmental movements around the world. As this is an eight-week online course, I rely more on online discussion boards. During my first eight-week session, I contributed to the conversation by making comments or noting teachable moments on individual posts. Then, I observed that students began to engage less with each other and more with me. When my second session started, I did not contribute to the dialogue and noticed that students appeared to feel freer to engage with each other on issues of gender and activism particularly, which resulted in longer, more thoughtful, and well-supported posts. This course changed the way I communicate with my students. I began sending out Sunday evening reminders of important up-coming dates, which prepared both my students and me for the work to come each week, as well as offered prompts or ideas to seed discussion, but otherwise minimized my role on the discussion boards to let my students engage in meaningful conversations. This course was cross-listed with Environmental Studies and is offered as an eligible class for the interdisciplinary Leadership Certificate.
I am also committed to introducing digital tools to enrich traditional classroom experiences. For instance, in Literary Theory and Criticism I designed activities using Classroom Salon, a digital platform that allowed my students to collaboratively annotate theoretical readings before coming to class for our in-person discussion. I reviewed the annotations to identify those moments that challenged or confused my students prior to class. More importantly, however, this collaborative approach offered low-stakes opportunities for my students to learn from, question, and teach each other so that they develop a strong sense of their own authority and their abilities to contribute to classroom knowledge construction.
My commitment to civic engagement through Critical Pedagogy and Education for Democratic Citizenship is reflected in the diversity of texts I assigned and my support for underrepresented students. Well-chosen narratives have the power not only to foster faculty and student engagement in the classroom, but also they offer students an opportunity to critically think about their own subjectivities, the communities they inhabit, and how they can positively influence the affairs of the world through their future vocations. Creative nonfiction and literature from the global South demonstrate the strength of narrative to provide alternative forms of knowledge often ignored by those in positions of power and connect the work we do specifically in the Humanities—and more broadly at institutions of Higher Education—to issues facing us locally and globally, preparing students to be both critical readers and writers and ultimately civically engaged citizens. Whether in a composition or literature course, I hope my students leave my classroom at the end of each semester with the tools necessary to be successful in their individual programs of study, their future vocations, and the larger communities they inhabit.