Teaching Philosophy

Shari Wolke Teaching Philosophy

“English teachers are trained to go into the classroom and to invite students to enter into various types of formal and creative discourse, sharing with students the characteristic elements of these genres and helping them to develop into skillful writers. What is less common is for the teacher to ask students to invite her into their forms of discourse” (Weinstein 24).

I believe that as a teacher I must recognize and include the lived experiences students bring to the classroom, and I believe that the place where ‘lived experience” is most at the forefront of students’ minds is in the composition course. Writing is high stakes, cathartic, and students’ lives are enmeshed in their writing, and the potential for transformation and therefore evidence of success is closer at in these courses then at any other locale. Further, in the global economy that has begun to develop, writers of all walks, but most particularly L2 writers of English, are finding composition to be a high-stakes aspect of their scholarly journey. I believe that this journey is best facilitated by an instructor with a deep commitment to student- teaching and therefore a commitment to students’ stories and lives. This principle lies at the heart of my teaching philosophy.

As writing is cathartic, I therefore include space in my class schedule for students’ situations, identities and truths. As a writing instructor, I recognize that I am teaching something that is at once so personal yet also public, and must make room for moments where the personal becomes public. This places the student at the forefront of the course while still remaining true to curricular goals, such as asking students to engage in critical thinking as well as improve their basic written communication skills through low-stakes formative assessment.  For example, this past semester there were several incidences of racial intimidation at my present institution. What was at first an absence of discussion of these events campus-wide became a component of coursework with my small group of scholars, with a real discussion of the fears, beliefs and current public discourse that students came in contact with taking place. After our engagement with these events, students wrote more lengthy, focused, and audience-aware blogposts than I had seen from them yet during that semester. They also wrote critically engaged analyses of the language and power issues that were present in the texts surrounding these events. This is one example of the ways in which students lives and experiences may be brought into the classroom to enhance the educational experience while still contributing to course goals. This experience intertwines with my research, as my research interest surrounds issues of linguistic imperialism and identity in first year writing. Students in my courses are not only reflective in terms of their lived experiences, but are also exposed to lives unlike their own, to discourses not their own but which are becoming more the norm as the marketplace becomes more globalized.

I look forward to reading papers and viewing students’ digital compositions in that I look forward to reading the lives of my students through their words and images. I enjoy watching students’ growth as individuals through their texts, particularly the process that many first year students tend to go through in their first semester— or of their return to higher education— of finding their voice and academic field of study. I also look forward to learning from my students in our courses. Teaching is therefore reciprocal; I appreciate learning as much from my students as I ask them to engage in critical analysis of texts and to examine lives and discourses unlike their own. This philosophy of teaching is the most sustainable for writing courses in that it fosters a sense of community in the writing classroom and helps to create critically engaged scholars who will take what they have learned beyond the classroom and into their lives as engineers, nurses, interior designers and mechanics.

Thus I believe that although writing is cathartic, it should also be pragmatic. It is for this reason that I both ask students to engage in inquiry-based projects as well as create projects that have real relevance to their lives. Last spring semester, due to legitimate student critique regarding the nature and audience of an assignment, I removed this assignment from my curriculum. I replaced it with an assignment more relevant to students’ lived experiences, one which asked students to carefully consider their academic careers and begin thinking of who they wished to become four years later. Students engaged with this assignment in that it allowed them to imagine their trajectory for schooling, something that writers often appreciate exploring; it also taught them a genre with which they were unfamiliar. I believe that students should not only have the opportunity to compose texts that are relevant to their lives outside of the course, but as instructors we should also consider students’ current situations, identities and truths.

My text- based Teaching Philosophy can be found here:

ShariWolkeTeachingPhilosophy

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