Teaching   

 Consider this my manifesto: an attempt to condense my teaching philosophy into a few paragraphs. There is a tendency toward idealism when outlining the pedagogical beliefs which drive my teaching, but I believe what follows is a fair assessment of the ideas that comprise me as a teacher.


     Even before entering graduate school, I enjoyed teaching opportunities.  Whether at summer camp, church youth groups or even presenting at business meetings, I have always enjoyed the process of preparing and explaining information. Thus, teaching was the primary motivation for my decision to pursue a Ph.D. and served as the main impetus to enter the academy. As I have progressed through the process, teaching remains the part of academe that I most enjoy and value.  

     Rhetorical education is a 2500-year-old tradition that I am proud to participate in.  I had the distinct privilege of studying under Dr. Michael Leff until his death in 2010, and agree with him and Graff; that in a splintered academic world, with every department vying for funding and recognition, it is the teaching tradition that can provide a unifying referent for the communication discipline.

    I find purpose in classroom instruction, and hold the communication discipline to extremely valuable from both a practical as well as philosophical standpoint. The practical side of communication degree is obvious.  Yet the philosophical seems to be often disregarded.  The philosophical aspects gets its merit from the classical rhetoric of Isocrates and Cicero which holds that virtue and correct thinking can be developed from a desire to communicate well. 

    Consequently, to the best of my ability, I teach the Isocratean ideal of a community-centric pedagogy, or paideia. To wit: I strive to make classroom lessons, activities and projects applicable to the University and the community at large, all in an effort to promote an element of civic responsibility among the students. I believe that this focus is one of the things the sets the communication discipline apart. As Hauser has said, "[c]apacitating students to be competent citizens is our birthright".  

    As a teacher, I believe that my influence can, and should, extend beyond the confines of the classroom, and thus I strive for immediacy with my students. My classes weave history, politics, popular culture, current events, personal examples, classical instruction and contemporary curriculum into a multifaceted, rhetroically grounded course, taught to a variety fo learning styles and intended to both enlighten and engage.

     In all my classes, I teach students to engage and negotiate opposition, research and present sound arguments, and think and act ethically. I teach that deliberation and disagreement, even in the name of so-called “incivility” is a societal positive and I work to establish the classroom as a place where ideas can be shared; a place of safe deliberation, where ideas can be challenged freely with oversight provided by a teacher who understands both sides of an issue and is willing to set aside his own beliefs in order to encourage the formation of students' own understandings. This space is free from malicious attacks, but is known as a place where students will be encouraged to confront their own biases. I believe this kind of classroom is essential in the promotion of critical thinking skills, and ultimately, to a healthier democratized society. 

     I value quality classroom instruction, exercises in critical thinking, interdisciplinary cooperation and experiential learning as the basic duties of higher education and believe that the best learning occurs when combining practical experience with theoretical knowledge. I value a college where I have the opportunity – through advising, mentorship, and teaching – to interact with students on a level that encourages a pedagogy of this kind. I strongly believe in the value of a liberal arts education, and in teaching classes which promote the creation of responsible, involved citizens. This goal, I believe, is an essential part of an effective liberal arts education.

    I've heard it said that all of life happens in the classroom.  Students experience deaths, births, engagements, marriages and divorces, and in a classes with such communion among the students, joy and grief are shared.  These events provide great opportunity for learning as well.  In this way, much of communication deals with real life, not purely theoretical concepts. This is one of the many things I enjoy about teaching in this discipline.

    I acknowledge that teaching, like any other skill, is a learning process, and there is always room for improvement. As I continue my path through academia, I look forward to working with students and further developing my pedagogical insights and abilities. 


References:

Graff, Richard and Leff, Michael. "Revisionist Historiography and Rhetorical Tradition(s)." The Viability of the Rhetorical Tradition. Eds. Richard Graff, Arthur E. Walzer, Janet M. Atwill.  Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005. 11-30. Print

Hauser, Gerard. "Teaching Rhetoric: Or Why Rhetoric Isn't Just another Kind of Philosophy of Literary Criticism." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 34.3 (2004) 39-53