Statement of Teaching Philosophy
My goal is to teach undergraduates how to use poetry to bridge the divide between the personal and the public. I want them to understand that by controlling language, they are controlling how they project themselves into the world. I believe that the classroom should be a community of learners, as Paolo Freire says, and that all art is a communal experience, and that our understanding of its functions should be communal too.
I also believe that just as art does not exist solely in the individual, no art exists in a vacuum, and my courses are designed to bring the students face to face with the poetry that has shaped the way we now speak it. In my Intermediate courses we look at a chronology of poetry, beginning with the Romantic revolution of the Lyrical Ballads of 1798, and the periodic revolutions in what it means to “make it new”. I want the students to walk out of that course at the end of the semester knowing where the art has come from, and what its practitioners have been struggling with. I want them to hear as many voices as they can, so they will understand that their own voice has a place there.
In my Advanced course I have the students read a book of very recent contemporary poetry each week. We engage with it as a text but also as a model for our own writing, much like musicians would practice playing passages by Chopin.
And I do it with them. I believe we never stop learning as artists and I would never ask my students to do a writing assignment that I wasn’t ready to do along with them, and to share it with them, often failing spectacularly in front of them. After all, they need to learn that the progression of their art will be as much about failure as success.
I am also frequently asked to mentor students in independent studies or other research projects, and often these personally-tailored courses of study we come up with, together, will influence my subsequent courses. I always have something to learn from a passionate, self-motivated student, and it’s a privilege to work closely with them.
I also spend a lot of time with their own poems. I sit with them a long time, reading them over and over, and I write long notes to them about how I see their poems working and how I see them not living up to their own promise. My job is not to help them make their poems more like what I want to read; my job is to help them make their poems stronger versions of what they already are. I work very hard at reading them for what they offer and not for what I think they should do.
I also believe that every good teacher is a reflective teacher, and to that end I religiously keep a teaching journal. I keep track of assignments and discussion questions and how they work to move the discussion forward or not. I go back to my notebook frequently, especially as I prepare for my next semester, to remind myself about the reflections I’ve made on my own practice.
So many of my students have published in our undergraduate literary magazine, or gone on to graduate school in poetry, and even published books, that I’d like to humbly suggest that at least for some of them, it’s working.