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Dear Selection Committee:
I am writing to explain my teaching philosophy as part of my application for the Assistant Professor in English position. My philosophy of teaching has evolved over my years of teaching to reflect the demands of the classroom in the global economy, but if I were to summarize my approach, the heart would be critical thinking, openness, self-expression, and accountability.
Each area of my philosophy can be taken individually, but must be viewed as a cohesive unit to be fully effective. The foundation of my teaching is leading students into critical thinking through different models, e.g. the Toulmin method, Aristotle’s rhetoric, rudimentary logic, and dialectical questioning. The first goal then is to give students tools to use for specific assignments, but also, and more importantly, to have the learner internalize these models and start applying them to their world. My curriculum design exemplifies this succinctly, as my writing courses build on successive thought models and lead them through content to which they can relate: popular culture and mass media. Thus, by starting with things about which they are already knowledgeable and opinionated, I believe they engage the material and internalize the critical thought models more successfully. Furthermore, I take personal accountability for helping the students to understand, decipher, and analyze the symbols of their world to interpret them in a meaningful, thoughtful way. This is the basis of my teaching and the cornerstone of active participation in democracy. Thus, critical thinking is the ultimate goal of my teaching in an effort to produce more active and aware citizens, yet it also necessitates the next aspect of my philosophy: self-expression.
All teaching is predicated on the students’ ability to openly express ideas in a safe, non-threatening environment. Accordingly, all my writing classes begin with a ten-minute freewrite on a thought-provoking quotation with sharing and open discussion of their responses following. As a result, the environment I create is very open, letting students express ideas without fear of castigation for a “wrong” idea; I fully establish from the start that there are no incorrect responses but only different interpretations. I seek for them to express, articulate, and then finally engage their interpretation of the world throughout the course, and this is not possible without the fostering of an ambiance of comfort and openness, the next aspect of my philosophy.
I create an open, relaxed environment through my amiable approach to the class. This is essential for fostering the level of critical thought and self-expression I seek from students because chastising them for voicing their opinions is antithetical to the stated goals of my teaching. My philosophy of openness is the reason, I feel, students are able to approach me with questions, comments, and concerns easily, but it is also the reason why students are academically successful in my classes. Additionally, this openness reinforces the teaching of writing as process and allows them to better understand how revision works in that process with an emphasis on creating understanding through praxis rather than focusing solely on the end result. This is not to say, however, that my approach is completely lackadaisical; rather I have high expectations, which I make transparent and to which I hold them accountable for their performance in class.
Accountability is the final aspect of my teaching philosophy and, thus, the framework by which critical thinking, self-expression, and openness are facilitated in class. Like the real world, classes present students with deadlines, attendance demands, and dedication to seeing a project to fruition; therefore, my philosophy also emphasizes the real world accountability of self-management and open communication when things are not going smoothly. As such, I constantly reinforce that, though I want thoughtful and expressive work, it must always adhere to a minimum standard of professionalism and the expectation that it must be the best work they are capable of producing.
Though my philosophy breaks into four parts, it is actually a single, unified vision of how to get students to understand that writing is not just something to put off until the night before a deadline, but rather it is the product of diligent, thoughtful effort and practice. Furthermore, my philosophy and classes always emphasize that their opinion is important, and they should voice it strongly but with the addition of sound reasoning and deep reflection. Thus, through my approach to teaching writing, I feel I give students the tools to communicate their thoughts effectively and support them so that they may begin to contribute meaningfully to the discourse on issues in our society and community.
Carl A Stewart