Self-reflection has, and continues to be, an important part of how I form and re-form myself as a teacher, a scholar, a learner (and a remixer, designer, writer, leader, follower, reader). When I first began teaching, I wrote out my teaching philosophy, and every year I revise it. Last year, I had the opportunity to revise my philosophy as part of my application for the University of Texas System’s Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, perhaps the most rigorous and prestigious recognition of teaching excellence in Texas. In August 2017 I won the award, an experience that has only caused me to think more deeply about my own teaching. The philosophy below is adapted from my application.
Following this excerpt, I address how I specifically address teaching technical communication.
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY: engaged teaching, reflective scholarship
My ideas about teaching are evolving, becoming more complex and sophisticated. I hope this to always be the case.
Part of my job is to help students engage and experiment with their own developing theories and ideas. That is, I am more interested in and motivated by notions of real learning, creativity, academic risk, error, genuine involvement and investment than I am in helping students achieve high grades. [I am concerned that grades, which should be a reflection of what students have learned (i.e., a measurement) have become, instead, achievements in themselves, a corruption of their usefulness. The consequence of this is that learning, academic achievement, and improvement are subordinated to whatever tasks must be completed to obtain an A. My identity as a teacher revolves around development and growth, both for the student and for myself.]
As education changes (its goals, purposes, spaces, and products), it is no longer enough to be a knower of things. Instead, students need to know how to do things and then apply that knowledge to new environments and paradigms. Another aspect of my job, then, is to facilitate students’ transition from potentially passive learning environments to more active moments of content application and knowledge creation. To borrow an old metaphor, I do not think it is my job to fill my student-vessels with knowledge. Rather, my job is more like an interested observer, suggesting to students that there is a “well of knowledge” to draw from and tools to use, and keeping vigil as they find the tools, examine them, search for the well, and finally help themselves to its provision. I see students as theory-makers: they are more than capable of building new knowledge, extending knowledge, and applying their growing expertise to the discourse communities around them. The classroom, then, is not a place separate from the “real world.” Rather, the classroom is a space where students can experiment with their theories, challenge themselves and each other, discuss, seek out feedback. My role is to alternatively point the way and muddle the path. Perhaps because I am a writing teacher with strong inclinations for pedagogy, but it seems to me that learning (a goal of education) happens on the way to the well, not necessarily at the well. There is something particularly powerful and meaningful in the processes of learning.
I also believe in and am fully committed to the idea of the teacher-scholar. I have been a high school teacher, an education consultant, and a college instructor. There is (perhaps unfairly so) a feeling that k-12 educators are master teachers and post-secondary educators are master scholars. This, to me, devalues both positions. I am completely invested in the craft and technique and science of teaching. I both recognize and am passionate about my role as an instructor, facilitator, mentor, listener, evaluator, challenger, defender: teacher. Because of that, I am engaged in my own personal growth as a teacher. That means practicing, reading and studying about pedagogy, self-reflection, seeking out opportunities for evaluation, participating in moments that both affirm and challenge my notions of what it means to teach and be a teacher. But I also think it is both dangerous and disingenuous for teachers not to participate in the learning process. As a scholar I work hard to keep up with and contribute to the growing sphere of my fields of expertise and interest (one of those interests being interdisciplinary-ness, which involves learning about a wide swath of things). That is, if I’m going to teach writing (or whatever my assignment may be), I must necessarily be studying writing and adding to the rich conversations about writing. To be a teacher-scholar means to be an expert and an expert teacher.
It is important to me that my philosophy of teaching is as dynamic as I hope my teaching and scholarship is. Teaching is a generative and rhetorical act: a composition that is both continually growing and purposefully rendered.
For my students, I have summarized these ideas as the “everyday scholar.” In one sense, everyday scholar might be interpreted as a knower of common things, but that is not what I mean (for them or for me). The everyday scholar is someone for whom being an engaged, curious, considering, and reflective human being has become familiar and ordinary—a way to normalize learning. That is what teaching and learning is for me: engaging and reflecting, everywhere and continual.
Technical communication, as an applied communication and rhetorical practice, requires engaging and wrestling with the genres, methods, expectations, and contingencies of writing in the workplace. This kind of communication still deals with social and ethical issues. However, as an applied writing, technical communication is more concerned with ideas of appropriateness, audience, and usability than first year writing and rhetoric and composition are.
I don’t change as a teacher when I teach technical communication. I recognize, though, that the TC classroom has different objectives than the other courses I also teach. Whatever class I find myself in, I work hard to understand and engage with the body of knowledge and underlying principles of the field for which I am introducing students to. The foundations of technical communication focus on genres, conventions, technology, and the workplace while also asking practitioners to understand how to navigate the social, critical and ethical, and rhetorical ecologies they find themselves in. These are the tenets I bring into technical communication learning spaces.