As a woman and a first-generation college graduate and academic, I am invested in the university as a diverse and inclusive space for intellectual and personal growth. I promote an ethos of critical inquiry and a capacity for articulating and understanding others’ perspectives. My classroom approach models the one-on-one interactions of a writing center methodology to reinforce active learning. I aspire to help students develop into more analytical and adaptable writers and thinkers and more receptive global student-citizens.
My pedagogy evolves from my passion for the stories of others, and I strive to make the classroom and the commons a safe place for stories of all kinds to be shared through a praxis of trust and openness. I encourage students to pose their own questions and interpretations in two ways: expressing my own empathy for the students and strengthening dialogic participation. Each day, I greet every student individually during attendance and ask how they are doing. This both demonstrates my investment in them as individuals and ensures that every voice is articulated into the classroom space every day. I work to validate students’ comments so that they feel comfortable investing in the conversation and positing creative interpretations. I also often illustrate my own thinking in close reading and analysis, pulling back the veil on a process that students at times perceive to be clouded in confusion, and I try to make them see that I do not always have an answer or that they do not always have to take what I say as the final word. Past students have identified student-teacher interaction as particularly effective in conveying material and encouraging participation.
I promote dialogic participation using small-group or partner discussions to show that analysis should be a cooperative and dialectical process based on evidence and substantiation. This builds an atmosphere in which students’ must situate their own positions in an ongoing conversation and interrogate the intersections and divergences of their standpoints, a practice I translate to activities like mini-debates. For example, in a discussion on institutional racism in de jure and de facto segregation, students debate free market real estate and individual property rights against governmental regulation. The conversation begins in small groups, where students feel more comfortable interacting with each other, and widens to a full-class debate. In the process of deliberation, students practice argumentation, summary, thesis construction, evidence prioritization, and presentation skills. They also learn how to articulate their own positions by contextualizing and clarifying the arguments of their classmates, thus metacognitively modeling and internalizing the rhetorical process.
I use these pedagogical strategies to provoke students to question and historicize the forces that underlie contemporary structures of power to think more critically about the present through an examination of the past. For instance, we compare the 2000s deaths of five men killed due to structural inequality, drug violence, and self-harm in Jesmyn Ward’s 2013 memoir Men We Reaped to those of Emmett Till, James Earl Chaney, and Medgar Evers, men killed by white violence during the Civil Rights era. I ask the students to consider how the prison industrial complex, police violence, and economic racism are revisions, continuations, and new iterations of legal oppression. Such discussions are designed to help students develop a deeper understanding of their own position in history. They come to see that seemingly historical forms of violence like segregation and slavery are not a distant past, but rather reverberations that shape our daily exchanges today. They can then translate this awareness to local and global contexts, taking their dexterity from the classroom into their diverse interactions as student-citizens of the world.
These approaches to active learning foster what I see as the most significant purposes of a liberal education: guiding students to develop critical inquiry and capacious empathy. As a teacher, I help my students cultivate skills and strategies for understanding the world around them and develop a heuristic that makes connections between themselves and that world.