Crafting Rhetorical Dexterity
My teaching philosophy is based on two main prongs: rhetoric as a material, contemporary practice and learning as a continual, iterative process. The classroom is a place for students to experiment with the literacy skills that make a democratic society effective. As a first generation college student who was most influenced by teachers who directly connected the theoretical and the everyday, I now explicitly model that process in my own teaching.
Joining Conversations on Social Justice
In light of the fraught social climate, students inevitably bring us social justice issues surrounding racism, sexism, and ableism during our more theoretical discussions. In the last year, students have repeatedly voiced their anxieties about Black Lives Matter tactics, gender representation, and violence against gay people. Their questions, although controversial – ‘how come white people can’t say the n-word?’ or ‘so would that still be wrong if a girl said that to a guy?’ – reflect how many students today are grappling with the fragmented social climate.
Although these questions are difficult, the response that I find to be most productive is to prompt students to discuss the assumptions behind these questions. Often, simply asking ‘well, why do you want to say the n-word?’ opens up discussion about the intermingling anxieties about identity that feel unavoidable to many students in today’s society. Voicing these fears and questions also enables students to directly see the importance of aligning one’s claims and evidence, especially when speaking on pathos-laden issues.
Diversity in the Classroom
I have been fortunate enough to teach a wide and eclectic variety of students. Whether they are a foreign dignitary’s son or a Chinese teenager who just flew to the US 48 hours prior, I endeavor to model critical thinking and engagement with rigor and empathy.
In “Writing Ready: Preparing for College Writing” at the University of Washington, I taught an intensive writing course to thirteen students from mainland China, As the course was only four weeks long, I set up class time as a peer-driven workshop that aided these students in identifying their writing strengths and weaknesses, introducing both college level writing and American educational values.
When teaching upper division courses focused on rhetoric, I embrace delving into the ongoing debates of the field, teaching students the differing aims of rhetorical analysis, theory, and criticism. I supplement more theoretical readings with online news sources and podcasts, demonstrating how the questions that occupy rhetoricians are relevant in other fields. Through using social media platforms like Twitter, students develop a public voice while they grapple with complicated rhetorical theory.
Engagement and Exigencies
My students will inevitably meet unsympathetic audiences that will not be swayed no matter how many discursive tools they wield. However, being able to critically weigh audience expectations against personal values is the first step to crafting rhetorical texts with conviction. Overall, my aim is for students to leave my classroom with the tools to act effectively and ethically within the academy and beyond, both as creators and consumers of texts.