Teaching Philosophy

I began teaching via the same route many academics begin their teaching careers: a teaching assistantship. However, my teaching journey quickly veered from the postsecondary, streamlined pedagogical pathway that would move me through a graduate program and into a university lectureship. Instead, I began a meandering journey, one placing me in different leveled English and writing classrooms around the country.


            I briefly taught English composition at the community college level after graduating with my M.A. I was a last-minute hire to help cover overloaded FYC courses – the ones so many instructors complain about teaching – and it was in these courses that I first encountered rhetoric and writing instruction, something incredibly different from my literary studies background. There, my teaching began its evolution. After two semesters at two-year institutions, I enrolled in a k-12 teaching certification program where I earned my teaching certification while simultaneously teaching eighth grade in Houston’s Third Ward. A rigid, Teach for America-esque certification program with good intentions, left me with a great misunderstanding about teaching. I bought into deficit thinking, issued redirects, punishments, and rewards, and maintained a structured curriculum that moved through units as planned. I’d already been editing writing to fit “standard” American English, especially with my Appalachian English speaking students at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, TN (a dialect I grew up speaking), and I continued this methodology by correcting my AAVE speaking students’ writing. Quickly though, I realized this single trajectory, this standard and what I thought was the writing instruction way, wasn’t working, wasn’t right. And through this realization, helped along by April Baker Bell’s Linguistic Justice and Aja Martinez’s Counterstory, I began understanding my classrooms not as what Freire calls the banks reliant on banking models, but as ecologies. 


Now, I teach with flexibility and adaptability. My pedagogies engage with and complicate writing, writing “standards,” the humanities, and contemporary issues, queries, and exigencies circulating my students’ world(s). I welcome complicated, messy discussions. My classroom relies on tangled webs, interdependent ideas students work to separate, understand, and synthesize in new or different ways. I teach by reminding myself the academic and the academy does not and should be separate from the personal experiences students carry with them when they step through an English classroom threshold, virtual or physical, and my pedagogy relies on, values, and centers student experiences through not only best practices, but anti-racist teaching practices. 


My teaching methodology isn’t a neat, consistent, single-theory reliant one. In fact, I can think of no greater detriment to myself or my students if this were the case. Instead, my classrooms shift and change. They are dynamic and aim to honor students by meeting them where they’re at and challenging them to hone their critical thinking skills, communicate via multiple modalities, languages, and dialects, to consider rhetorical situations, narrative forms, and investigate not only big issues, but smaller ones, ones closer to home, whether this means focusing a course at the University of Tennessee on Southern studies, stereotypes, and media projections of the South or extending a unit in an East Harlem eleventh grade English class well beyond the unit plan because discussions about August Wilson’s Fences haven’t been exhausted. 


My teaching efforts work to expose students to material they connect with, but also content they may not have yet encountered. I teach with empathy in mind, and I lean on trauma-informed pedagogies that remind me my students are individuals navigating the world, its cruelties and beauties, just as I am. Jane Bennett says we must “world with” to create a sustainable and hopeful future, and I think we must also “teach with.” Teach by understanding students, syllabi, courses, and pedagogies aren’t static, rather they are dynamic, moving pieces constantly challenging me to reevaluate my teaching practices, content, and materials, to “world with” by teaching with.