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teaching philosophy

We learn by listening to those who do not agree with us. 
- K. Ratcliffe

The word that best informs my teaching philosophy is listening. In addition to reading, writing, and speaking, my research and approach to teaching have been dedicated to the inclusion of listening as a fourth and necessary component of rhetoric and composition. Ratcliffe (2005) defines listening as a “stance of openness that a person may choose to assume in relation to any person, text, or culture” (p. 1). In today’s classroom, where each student’s identity plays an integral part in their role as a scholar and learner, this kind of openness is imperative for communicating effectively while honoring differences of ethnicity, neurodiversity, socioeconomic backgrounds, and learning styles. It is this stance that I aim to employ in my pedagogy, assignments, classroom discussions, and interactions with students. 


One way this emphasis on listening plays out is through my Compromise Essay. This assignment is a twist on the traditional argument essay in that it asks students to research a controversial topic and come up with a potential compromise. Not only does this assignment prompt students to listen to multiple perspectives on an issue, but it also engages their critical thinking skills by encouraging them to grapple with nuance, to think creatively, and to focus on the pragmatic. Students are also asked to choose an audience for this essay and tailor it to whom they are speaking. In this way, I hope to equip students with the kind of informed rhetoric that enables them to listen with an open mind while knowing how to articulate their own beliefs in the most effective way possible. 

As someone who was a nontraditional student, working full-time while attending school and becoming a parent, I maintain an appreciation for the kinds of lived experiences students bring with them into the classroom. These experiences are often strengths that serve as fodder for engaging discussions, introducing new perspectives, and fostering curiosity in learning. To capitalize on these strengths and promote ownership in students’ writing, my assignments frequently ask students to choose their own topics, co-create a rubric, and take a turn leading class discussion. I have also found that conferencing with students about their writing provides space for listening to their thought processes and adjusting my approach to their individual understanding, while building trust that encourages them to voice their ideas in the wider classroom. 


I believe leading by example is a powerful learning tool and so I frequently dive right into writing with my students by writing drafts live for a prompt of my students’ choosing and talking them through my writing process as I do so. I also engage in many think-aloud protocols such as talking to the text and walking through example writing samples together. I find that students have so many things going on in their lives and so engage in mindfulness with my students for one minute at the start of every class so that we can be fully present for all these engaging activities.

If I am not an active model of openness and teachability for my students, truly listening and adjusting my approach to meet their understanding, I know that sacred space where all voices are heard and honored will slip back into elusivity. My intention in teaching is to grow, to train my flexibility, and, most importantly, to attune my practice to the dynamic needs of students. What I have to offer is only a small piece of what students need to succeed in college and beyond, but my hope is that it instills a foundation for communicating effectively that benefits them in any future discipline or career.

Ratcliffe, K. (2005). Rhetorical listening: Identification, gender, whiteness. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

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