Teaching Philosophy Statement

     According to the narrator in Paul Beatty’s novel, The Sellout, a person must ask themselves two questions: “Who am I? And how may I become myself?”[1] The foundation of my teaching philosophy is based on these two questions because I believe that higher education in English and Creative Writing is an opportunity for students to understand who they are as writers and find the paths to becoming who they want to be. My courses are opportunities for students to learn the conventions of communication across media, understand who they are as writers within the context of those conventions, and comprehend the ways in which they might follow and depart from those conventions to become the best writer for their elected audience. In order to understand their elected audiences, students must first understand genre. To teach my students about convention, audience, and genre, I draw from a teaching philosophy grounded in the writing construct model of three domains: (1) cognitive, (2) intrapersonal, and (3) interpersonal.[2] Whether I’m teaching creative writing, composition, or literature courses, I break each of my classes into units that help students understand the foundations of the genre, their personal responses to the genre, and how a community or audience may interact with that genre.

     To address the cognitive domain, I focus on the foundations of spoken and written communication by teaching the conventions of topics like traditional dramatic structure to my creative writing students, MLA formatting to my expository writing students, and standard American grammar to all of my classes. Although I teach the conventions of grammar to my students, I keep my curriculum and grading practices open to intersectionality and the linguistic diversity of my classrooms. My goal isn’t to make students speak or write in standard American English, but to teach them the options they have when writing and speaking and how they can make informed decisions when they communicate across different communities. As a Black educator that has taught and learned in both English and Korean, intersectionality is integral to my teaching philosophy. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a critical race theory scholar, once said:

Intersectionality . . . [is] a prism for understanding certain kinds of problems . . . [It] encourages people to think about how the convergence of race stereotypes or gender stereotypes might actually play out in the classroom [and it encourages teachers] to commit themselves to understanding [intersectionality] and providing equal education opportunities for all students regardless of their identities.[3]

Within the context of an English or Creative Writing classroom, intersectionality—to me—is a two step process. First, as an educator, I recognize that students come from different backgrounds, and then I teach the foundational elements of writing so that all students feel empowered by their knowledge of conventions no matter what their past experience with language is.

     For the intrapersonal domain, I create projects that apply their knowledge of conventions, how their own communication (be it storytelling, poetry writing, or academic writing) interacts with the conventions of their respective genre, and why they might choose to depart from those conventions. Two important aspects of the intrapersonal domain are individual choice and self-reflection. Through self-reflection, students are able to better understand the choices they make and acquire the intrapersonal competencies related to what the researchers, Joan Herman and Margaret Hilton, call “intrapersonal behaviors.”[4] According to Herman and Hilton, these behaviors directly affect a student’s sense of ethics, their perseverance, and their career orientation.[5] That said, to have my students explore their own, individual interpretations of the course’s genre, I have my students produce writing within the genre of the class such as short stories, poems, and academic essays. I also have my students write reflective personal essays about their experiences writing in that genre. This reflection helps students build intrapersonal competencies and better understand their decision making processes while writing. In my own experience as a student and as a writer, I’ve found that once I understood why I make the choices that I do in my writing, both the drafting and revision processes became simplified. Writing personal essays about their experience with writing is a way for my students to better understand their processes and write more efficiently.

     Lastly, to cover the interpersonal domain, my students look at communities—or audiences—that read the genre in which the class is writing. My creative writing students find commonalities between creative pieces published in literary magazines and examine the rhetorical moves that a creative writer may make to be published in certain outlets. My expository and literature students look at the rhetorical changes they may make to appeal to a public or academic audience. We also discuss the ways in which their skills transfer over to the workplace and across other genres they may write in. Overall, in addition to focusing on these three domains, I believe that students should be generating a body of work that practically applies their learned knowledge of conventions.

Footnotes:

[1] Beatty, Paul. The Sellout. Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016: pg39.

[2] National Research Council of the National Academies (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferrable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Washington D.C.: National Academic Press.

[3] “Kimberlé Crenshaw: What Is Intersectionality?” YouTube, 22 June 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViDtnfQ9FHc.

[4] Herman, Joan L., and Margaret L. Hilton. Supporting Students College Success: The Role of Assessment of Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies. The National Academies Press, 2017.

[5] Herman, Joan L., and Margaret L. Hilton.

Kat Lewis at Johns Hopkins University