Reflection on Teaching | 2010
It was an August day in 2003 when I first entered a university classroom and remained standing, awkwardly, as the students seated there realized the young man in a button-down shirt and chinos intended to teach them how to deliver a speech. An instructor’s first day usually challenges his or her identity in some way, but the interpersonal acrobatics involved in the first day of public speaking—innocuously listed in the Washington State University course catalog as "Communication Studies"—make for a special challenge. Fifty minutes later, as everyone zipped their backpacks and filed into a sunlit hallway, I felt a strange sense of awareness, as if a curtain were falling between me and 28 faces I would see again in 48 hours.
Nyanja and Kyu I could remember, but how to distinguish Dana from Dianna? Brian from Bryan? Where I stood relative to their desks, how fast I wrote on the board, and whether I opened a window, I was realizing, meant something. The tenor of my voice, too, could determine the difference between a vacuum and a passionate discussion. Most alarmingly, my role as lecturer presented a perfect microcosm of the rhetorical act I would soon expect each of my students to perform.
Seven years later, I am a better instructor, one still on stage but joined, daily, by students more invested in their own rhetorical acts than in listening to a lecture. I am an instructor who blogs and tweets, who referees forums, who sees current events and teaching as intertwined, who believes collaboration is a pain worth enduring, who doesn't yet know how to best grade wikis, and who delights in student essays reaching a public audience. Like the writers who gain the most from my classroom, I am learning things large and small every day. And as a historic poll of 40,000 U.S. teachers, Primary Sources, recently demonstrated, educators want (and need) their methods enriched by professional development.
Over the past two years, the TILT Graduate Teaching Certificate Program and the English Department of Colorado State University have helped me do just that. The portfolio you’re reading now is evidence of one instructor learning how to approach academic communication—a broad term that signals both my respect for the traditions of rhetoric and my interest in junctures among composition, new media, and personal narratives. Three pedagogical seminars, Teaching Writing: Composition and Rhetoric, Theories of Composition, and Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language, provided grounding for a statement of teaching philosophy, a reflection on my own literacy, and a bibliographic essay.
Meanwhile, I developed (and continue to revise) syllabi and lesson plans, handouts, assignments, and evaluative strategies for College Composition 150, a course I have taught in five sections as a teaching assistant. Faculty observations and feedback from students point to my maturity as a composition instructor while also describing room for growth. But perhaps the most enriching aspect of my certification has been the opportunity to attend TILT workshops with teaching professors and adjunct instructors alike—each of them, it would seem, a scholar interested in refining the ways he or she connects with students.
In Blaine Harding's “Expanding Your Comfort Zone: Diversity in the Classroom,” we learned about “self-authorship,” or how individual experiences can be thoughtfully constructed in ways that promote learning. In “Stop Searching: Start Connecting,” James Folkestad discussed the merits of platforms such as Wikispaces.com that proved helpful in designing group research projects for CO150. And in “Making Pedagogically Informed Technology Choices” I engaged in dialogue with Carrie Lamanna about defusing a debate raging on a student forum.
In “Advanced Commenting and Responding to Writing,” Kate Kiefer urged us to adjust our rubrics to reflect the quality of student writing, rather than adhering inflexibly to standards few students attain. In “What Research on L2 Writing Tells Us and What It Doesn't” Eli Hinkel described a series of features that can distinguish second language writing from that of native language students. Finally, in “The Power of Nonfiction,” a workshop I suggested TILT organize some months earlier, John Calderazzo provided a capstone for my certification: the encouragement to find stories worth telling, each day, before the curtain falls.