My teaching is grounded in the same method I employ as a learner and writer; I approach material with seriously light-hearted earnestness. In each class I aim to create an environment where the subject is revered as integral to developing our humanity, and therefore examined critically and explored with equal degrees of humor, creativity, and intelligent scrutiny. My most recent syllabus for developmental composition begins with an Oliver Wendell Holmes quotation likening language to blood. But the accompanying course website quotes comedian Demetri Martin saying it would be convenient if when writing a ransom note a little paper-clip popped up saying, “Looks like you’re writing a ransom note. You should use more forceful language.” I ind that this range of high and low seriousness, formal and informal rhetoric, works well to create animated and productive communities of learners, where individuals both speak and listen, disagree and collaborate. In the process, they move slowly but energetically toward our ultimate goal of an improved relationship with language.
When I speak of employing humor in the classroom, I don’t mean irony or sarcasm; I mean honoriic humor, informed by compassion and vulnerability. I ind this brand of humor helps students connect in discussion and engage with individual texts. For example, in a literature course, I played a Key and Peele comic sketch alongside a discussion of Meena Alexander’s short story “Grandmother’s Letters.” Students were encouraged to draw cross-cultural connections from India’s independence movement to the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. as we examined the parallel philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. In addition to discussing historical context, I explained the similarities by playing the video, “Gandhi vs. Martin Luther King, Jr., Epic Rap Battles of History,” in which the comics try to “out paciist” each other. The video highlights the activists’ beliefs and historical achievements with a lightness that facilitates discussion of sensitive human rights topics. This method of classroom management, I ind, creates in students a willingness to contribute to discussion and a belief that what they have to say will be valued by the community.
I also use interdisciplinary approaches to encourage relationships between students and texts. In addition to traditional essays, I incorporate blog writing, website production, multi-genre composition, and audio and visual representations of literature into my assignments and lectures. This offers students creative space inside our course to take ownership of the course material, individualizing their projects. Course websites prompt my students to adopt technology that can help them connect with like minds and audiences outside the classroom. For example, in one beginning composition class, I challenged students to transform written narratives into digital projects. Students practiced digital writing, design, and editing skills while simultaneously enhancing their ability to see revision as a true re-seeing of their original texts.
This re-seeing is important: I want students to leave my composition classes better equipped for the clumsy and often exhausting revision process. More than anything, I want them to understand writing as a messy, imperfect, and ultimately very rewarding process. With this end in mind, each semester I explain that student grades are dependent on a willingness to work to advance and reine writing and critical thinking skills. To assess student writing, I use Turnitin and its accompanying grading aids to help teach mechanics at the sentence level. In developmental writing classes, I also spend multiple days at the start of the semester reviewing common sentence-level errors and basic paragraph and essay structures.
When grading essays, I write a response paragraph that addresses overall concerns. I also conference with students to ensure that my suggestions have been understood. Students have the opportunity to revise any project they are unsatisied with; within a designated time-frame and with the qualiication that they discuss the writing with me and have a tutoring session in our campus writing center before submitting their revisions. I want to help students to produce irst drafts with conidence, listening to the best and gentlest parts of their critical faculties; to revise these drafts discerningly; and to edit them ruthlessly. Ultimately, I hope students come to realize something about their own capacities for growth and begin to better appreciate the utility and lexibility of language.
My approach to creative writing workshops is similar in that I use humor, emphasize revision, and utilize technology. But because it is common for students in these courses to possess an intrinsic appreciation of language, I focus mainly on developing my student writers’ critical capacities and craft lexicons. In a recent beginning poetry writing course, I used Mark Doty’s The Art of Description and Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook to guide craft conversations and in-class workshops. These texts represent distinct approaches to many of the same poetic topics. Both speak of prosody, metaphor, tone, and other components of craft; but Doty’s book presents the material in a lyrical, associative manner, while Oliver systematizes the craft elements and speaks bluntly of such topics as the beneits and drawbacks of the creative writing workshop. In their contrasting styles, Oliver and Doty represent both formal and informal rhetoric. The books’ differing registers allow students with varying tastes to gain comparable knowledge of poetic terms.
Similarly, I provided a mix of formal and informal writing by assigning speciic writing prompts, online and during class, while simultaneously allowing students their choice of poetic methods in the writing they submitted for class workshop. For example, an online exercise in imitation used Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” to prompt students’ creation of haiku-like metaphor and to encourage their exploration of perception. One student’s imitation, “Five Ways of Looking at Eye Contact,” delighted the group with its “meta” yet immediate take on Stevens. An in-class exercise in adjective elimination yielded poetry with added movement. I have found that incorporating such writing prompts into craft lectures helps students handle the restraints of formal poetry while allowing them liberty to experiment with technique. I ind this combination of form and freedom provides a necessary level of challenge, a tango between structure and creative chaos, a luid balance between creativity and critical relection. In short, my teaching aspires to match hard work with the exhilaration of discovery.
Whether I teach literature, composition, or creative writing, I commit to a belief best conveyed by Tomas Transtromer: “Each man is a half-open door / leading to a room for everyone.” With each course, I work to create classroom experiences and assignments that empower students to see the door and gain access to more expansive versions of themselves so that they, and others, may beneit from all that is waiting on the other side.
LIST OF COURSES TAUGHT:
Department of English, University of Southern Mississippi, 2013-2016:
Introduction to Poetry Writing: Writing as Creative Seeing (Spring 2016) - This introductory poetry workshop emphasizes good writing as intense seeing. Through class discussion, selected craft and poetry readings and critical examination of student writing, the class introduces beginning writers to the poetic concerns of sound, line, form, diction, tone, voice, and imagery.
Expanded Composition I: From Personal Narrative to Academic Argument (Spring 2016) - This class expands the traditional beginning composition course from one to two semesters in order to provide students with additional time, attention, and resources to develop their writing and analysis skills. It emphasizes close reading and argumentative writing that significantly engages source materials.
Technical Writing: Writing in Professional & Public Contexts (Fall 2015) - This course prepares students to research and communicate more effectively in a range of professional and public settings. It focuses on rhetorical strategies for gaining employment, production of documents used for forming and funding nonprofit corporations, and website design.
Survey of World Literature: World, Home (Spring 2015) - This class coveres a variety of fiction, poetry, and drama from Sophocles to contemporary author Jesmyn Ward. It focuses on themes of home, including loyalty and betrayal, coming of age, heroism, and trauma, and emphasized close reading through blog writing, in-class discussion, thesis-driven essays and multimodal projects.
Composition I: The Art of Language: Word as Way to Argue and Understand (Fall 2014) - This class encourages first-year students to develop writing and analysis strategies by heightening their attention to diction, syntax and tone. It explores the rhetorical techniques used in multiple genres: nonfiction, poetry, and argumentative academic essays. It emphasizes close reading of diverse authors such as Jay-Z and June Jordan.
Gradate Instructor of Record, Department of English, 2005 – 2006
English Composition II: Research and Argument (Spring 2006) - This class prepares students for research writing through practicing rhetorical analysis, synthesis, and argumentative strategies. Geared toward individual specialization, the course encourages students to explore concerns of their chosen field through research and critical writings.
English Composition I: Argument and Analysis (Fall 2005) - This class introduces first-year students to writing strategies by progressing from personal narrative to argumentative essay. It focuses on language in the context of varying discourse communities and emphasizes developing a writing process.
I taught the following course for CUNY Adult Literacy ESL/BE/GED Programs, Queens, New York:
English as a Second Language: Advanced English Language Acquisition--This course helped advanced English as a Second Language students further their verbal and written communication skills. It focused on creative non-fiction, specifically the writings of Francisco Jiménez. Students developed vocabulary and writing skills through non-fiction writing assignments. (1 section)
I taught the following high school courses for Tecnológico de Monterrey, Laguna Campus, México:
Introduction to Philosophy: Survey of Western Philosophy - This course introduced students to themes of western philosophy. Using philosopher Fernando Savater’s The Questions of Life: An Invitation to Philosophy, the course focused on philosophical questioning as intellectual exercise. It emphasized critical thinking through blog writing, thesis-driven essays, and multimodal projects. (2 sections)
English Literature: Survey of Western Literature – Prose, Poetry, & Drama - This course traced the development of western literature from ancient theater and fables to modernist novels and poetry. It used Joseph Campbell's monomyth, or hero's journey, as a guide for exploration. Students developed an awareness of narrative theory and appreciation of cross-cultural themes in ancient to modern literature.
I taught the following courses for Olivet University, San Francisco
English Fundamentals: Beginning Composition--This class introduced ESL students to writing strategies through a variety of thesis-driven essays. It emphasized vocabulary and English grammar. (1 section)
English as a Second Language II--This course helped advanced English as a Second Language students further their verbal and written communication skills. It focused on English grammar, vocabulary, and verbal production and emphasized developing English language skills through short writing assignments, in-class exercises, and vocabulary journals. (1 section)