Having now taught my first class in composition at Kennesaw State University, it is almost unsettling to look back at my philosophy from a year ago. As I continue to acquire new experiences as an instructor, I feel myself peeling away the layers of theory to arrive at the center of my practical understanding of teaching a First Year Composition (hereafter FYC) course. After reflecting on the last five COVID-fueled months (it’s impossible to speak on anything outside of the context of the current public health situation in America), it is my pleasure to know that my theoretical approach to teaching manifested quite naturally in the classroom.
Above all else, I value the existence of my students not as autonomous husks but as the individuals they are. For this reason, I have given significant weight to understanding their individual qualities and interests and finding ways to create an intersection between those interests and course material. This procedural course design creates a conundrum in creating an exact schedule for a course, because the minutiae of that design work hinges upon student interests. My objective as an instructor is not to prescribe information but rather to make that information accessible to students. Another way of explaining this process is imbue students with passion to investigate through writing and on an intellectual level where writing—and more broadly, rhetorically-driven communication—impacts their daily lives. I continue to strive toward providing students with necessary tools to represent their backgrounds, dreams, and identities. Only when students feel aware of the personal connection between themselves and the subject matter will they pursue the subject with an active interest.
This idea of personalization in the classroom begins with me, though. My interests in popular media and writing as a process must come front and center. Without a demonstration of my own interests’ connection to rhetoric, I would be ill at ease expecting my students to build the bridge between the course content and their personal lives. That said, I am increasingly aware of a need to learn alongside my students. In hindsight, this seems blatantly obvious, as it aligns perfectly with my objective as an instructor of FYC. Investigating my own interests in writing and using that writing as practical examples of expectations both allows students to catch a glimpse of my humanity while being supplemented with materials that serve as a guide for their own work. This is of particular interest to me in a research-focused composition class. Ideally, another product of this approach would be students finding flaws in my own writing.
This may seem undesirable for a professor to undermine their ethos by exhibiting unpolished work. On the contrary, it plays into another aspect of my developing philosophy, which is to normalize imperfection. There is no point in the course of writing wherein the writer has produced a work that is both without scrutiny from its audience and without scrutiny from its author. I am a firm believer that while it is very possible to produce a piece of work that accomplishes all the guidelines of the assignment; I also believe that assigning perfect scores to essays undercuts the structure of the writing process. A perfect score on an essay denotes there is nothing that could be done to improve upon it. Unlike solving for variables or programming software applications to execute tasks, there are no perfect answers in writing. Grading in the writing classroom should reflect that with heavier emphasis on revision, the destigmatization of grades below 90 as abhorrent, and the elimination of perfect scores on essays. Students are given conflicting information when they receive a perfect score on an essay yet are greeted by comments detailing areas that could have been stronger. The grade eliminates the incentive to implement that feedback, even in future works because that student has already achieved the threshold of “perfect.” Outside of the classroom, this philosophy also motivates students to strive for one step better.
Add to this my focus on allowing students an allotment of topical freedom in their writing, and my philosophy for teaching becomes something more valuable, in my estimation. It becomes a model for life and personal growth in and out of the classroom. I want my students to leave my class with a better understanding of who they are as people and how their writing intersects with those goals. By tapping into those passions, I can accomplish much more than teaching students how to research or compose a paper.