My goal as a teacher is to provide students with a classroom environment that challenges them to consider their personal stories, experiences, and literacies as part of a larger cultural narrative—one that influences them and that they can influence in turn. And as director of composition, my passion for teaching students enrolled in basic writing classes plays a significant role in the development of my philosophy and goals for students at the University of Southern Mississippi. Focusing so intently on the challenges faced by underprepared students requires me to constantly reflect on how my classroom practices might lead to successful learning outcomes for all of my students. Ultimately, my role as a teacher of writing and as an administrator requires me to help students navigate the unstated ideologies implicit in the relationship between writing and higher education.
In order to foster these critical conversations about the roles of writing and literacy in and out of academe, my undergraduate courses always involve interdisciplinary reading and writing opportunities that are both challenging and accessible. It is important to me that students have the opportunity to understand their own stories and the stories that have shaped their identities as writers and as citizens. Consequently, my undergraduate courses typically combine examinations of language, identity, and place. For example, recent course themes have included taboo language (How, where, and when do language acts become taboo?); higher education (How is higher education changing, and what are we supposed to gain from the college experience?); the piney woods region of Mississippi (What is important about the region so many of us call home, and why is it often overlooked in histories of the state?); and even the Disney corporation (How has Disney influenced our understandings of gender, race, education, and place?). Student projects have included works on southern vernacular and taboos, the ways higher education discriminates against the working class, the role of quilting in telling stories in the piney woods, and the marketing of Disney products in grocery stores. One of my students recently wrote “Although I have lived and travelled in the Piney Woods my whole life, I have never studied or analyzed it in depth like I have this semester. After the readings, research paper, and video essay I worked on over the past few months, I discovered there can be so much more to an area than what is seen at first glance.” These types of responses, as students begin to enact their roles as emerging authors participating in important conversations, bring me great satisfaction as a teacher.
As a writing teacher, I also want students to have the opportunity to explore conventions of writing, digital literacies, and the power of research and publication. Together, we contextualize the ideas of conventions and writing genres to help students understand what they might consider archaic grammar rules regarding writing as agreements between writers and readers—even if they do not claim and did not help construct these particular “agreements.” All of my classes challenge students to incorporate their technological savvy in ways that improve their understandings of traditional and more contemporary concepts of rhetoric and authorship by incorporating public forms of digital writing. In addition, I strive to ensure that my students (graduate and undergraduate) have the opportunity to participate in research about writing by including them in conference presentations, encouraging them to submit their works for recognition and publication, and working with them individually on their writing goals.
Finally, as director of composition, my teaching is not confined to just my own classroom, and this means that collaboration plays a significant role in my pedagogy. I enjoy conducting pedagogy workshops for and with other faculty on topics such as diversity in the classroom, incorporating e-portfolios, classroom management, online instruction, active-learning initiatives, and place-based learning. Recently, one of my graduate students commented in my evaluations that my class “improved [her] confidence as an instructor while also challenging [her] approach.” Ultimately, I hope that all of my students and colleagues feel this way about our pedagogical interactions, whether about writing or the teaching of writing. I have come to realize that this happens when I listen to my students and my colleagues and take into account their beliefs and ideals regarding writing—in other words, to teach and to learn simultaneously. Indeed, perhaps the best part of teaching is the opportunity to continue learning with others, as together we explore the ways writing can influence everything and everyone around us.
A course that focuses on exploring and writing about the location and cultures of "the piney woods" of Mississippi--an area "characterized by gently rolling hills, longleaf pine trees, and a sandy clay soil that is productive not rich." Students begin by reading and rhetorically analyzing Janisse Ray's Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and then pursue research projects grounded in our studies of the piney woods.
A course that focuses on the topic of Disney and its far-reaching, and often surprising, influences in contemporary culture. Using Henry Giroux’s The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence as a springboard, students read and write about the values and ideals promoted by Disney through its films, theme parks, advertising, education, business, and housing models.
Our celebration of student writing at USM, which coincides with the National Day on Writing every year. One of my favorite programmatic events, Eagles Write! celebrates our students as the authors they are.
Expanded Composition is a departmental initiative designed to ensure that all students who enroll in our first-year composition courses at USM have the best opportunity for success. We designed this program to expand our traditional composition course over two semesters and provide students with additional opportunities, time, resources, and community.
THEORY OF TEACHING COMPOSITION
This graduate seminar provides students with the opportunity to examine and reflect on their teaching practices and philosophies and the theories that inform their classroom pedagogies.