Teaching Philosophy Statement (Draft 2: Star Date 12/13/15)

Teaching Philosophy Statement (Draft 2: Star Date 12/13/15)

Amy Li

Teaching Philosophy Statement (Draft 2: Star Date 12/13/15)

“A writer is very much like the captain on a star ship facing the unknown. When you face the blank page and you have no idea where you're going [...] [i]t can be terrifying, but it can also be the adventure of a lifetime.” – Michael Piller (writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager)

As an engaged instructor of English and composition courses, I aim to foster and support active learning through critical reading and writing. I am staunchly committed to creating an environment which engenders discussion and allows students to flourish while improving their literary and rhetorical skills through constant, patient practice and reflection.What I desire is for my students to gain and maintain confidence in their own knowledge(s) and knowledge-making, to be captains of their own education. My mission is to help students realize their potential through an understanding of reading and writing as not only academic processes but also loci for personal engagement and exploration.

Speaking (or rather, writing) about the personal, my own research in English engages that wonderfully rich world of science fiction.Part of my interest in plumbing the depths of this genre and teaching under the influence (one might say, the gravitational pull) of “sci-fi” lies in exploring the power of writing through alien beings and thewritinginto being of those creatures and diverse worlds.Specifically, many science fiction texts impel the reader to think about the ways in which characters are named, the language used to describe and therefore define creatures, including ourselves. In the English 181 course I taught on “Diversity in Science Fiction,” students wrote multiple papers engaging in such character analysis, first beginning by analyzing one character, paying specific attention to gender and other forms diversity with regards to marginality, and a second paper building on the first which required students to put that first character into conversation with a second character, undertaking critical analysis of the specific words used to describe each character.

Academia can sometimes feel like an alien world, and writing can seem like an inhospitable terrain—the blank page like a black hole, to echo Michael Piller’s words—to even the most seasoned of adventurers. My duty is to lead students through their practice runs, providing them the tools they need before they strike out on their own writing passage. For example, I regularly employ in-class writing assignments (such as Venn diagrams and free writes) which allow students to engage with readings and genres in a low-stakes setting. My students have also created and curated their own blogs in both my ENG 101 and ENG 181 courses, giving them experience with low-stakes writing in a digital space.

My experience shows me that students learn most effectively when they feel deeply connected to what and how they read and write. Thus, my pedagogical method includes making students feel “at home” in their explorations through incorporating elements of personal engagement in their writing assignments. A personal connection also informs my choice to hail in popular culture, connecting our classroom to the world (that world in which my students exist and thrive)outside this ivory spaceship. Another method I employ to engage students is to ask students to cultivate and contribute their own discussion questions or topics. Giving students control of the ship in a safe space allows students to become experts in their own right.

Making sure that students feel at home can also entail other practices. In my ENG 101 course on “Food, Feelings & Film,” students and I all took turns bringing in food to share during our in-class writing workshops each Friday. Convening over food can create a warm and inviting atmosphere suited to engaged discussion between students. The power of food has also been re-affirmed for me in my service position as the social chair for the Emory English graduate department. I witnessed both current and prospective students enthusiastically discussing their research interests and projects with professors over veggie kebabs and bread at the recruitment party I organized, and watched both personal and professional relationships flourish at our grad student and department parties.

Still, even with a warm atmosphere and belly, students may not always feel that they inhabit a comfort zone at the beginning of a course. Sometimes, they need time to put out their feelers and test out the landscape before boldly going forth into the fray of an essay or in-class conversation. Acknowledging this dimension—that not all students learn in the same way or progress at the same full-tilt speed—has informedmy “participation” policy which puts forth the idea that there are many ways to learn and “engage.” My syllabi include low-stakes blog assignments in which students explore topics and genres of writing, fashioned in their own style and voice(s). One possible way to participate is to comment on fellow students’ blog posts. Another is to visit me in office hours; I have found that students who were at first reticent to speak up in class have later bloomed after having discussed their papers and ideas with me one-on-one. Some students have required more coaxing than others, but the success of encouraging a student to reach out their tentative tendrils, like one of Mr. Sulu’s beloved botanical specimens, inspires my teaching.

Reading and writing: the final frontier. These are the voyages of my enterprising students.Some students may be embarking on their first exploration of the deep space that isacademia (and the wide world beyond), while others have made many voyages before; nevertheless, we—including me, their instructor and enthusiastic crew member—are all on the same journey together, a federation of fellows in search of knowledge.

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