Five years teaching for the English department of Old Dominion University (ODU) and eleven years serving institutions of postsecondary education is a story of growth and change.  My pedagogy, networks, and life interests are crystallizing into shapes I never could have imagined.

I remember my first day of student-teaching in graduate school, notebook open and pencil ready, unsure of how to teach Advanced Writing to students who speak English as a second language.  I remember feeling relieved when the teacher arrived and began teaching the five paragraph essay (5PE), an approach to writing I was familiar with as a composition tutor.  This was something I could teach!

Much has changed in my teaching since my first days, in short,  from the 5PE, or second wave of writing pedagogy and assessment, to the the third wave which includes portfolio keeping, reflection, and cultivating a meta-awareness of learning outcomes in student writing via genre theory and community engagement.  Furthermore, requirements for information literacy in my classes have come to reflect an anti-racist sensibility.  I arrived to this philosophy after many years of action research, mentorship, and professional development

In 2015, I remember feeling as though I had reached a plateau in my professional life, as anyone who hopes to develop may.  Therefore, I decided that the best way to reinvigorate my teaching was to begin incorporating learning opportunities outside of the classroom.  I needed to descend from the ivory tower to reclaim my passion, to reintegrate with the community, with our shared humanity.

My first effort to connect with the community came at the suggestion of Dr. Emily Eddins, the Service-Learning Coordinator at ODU, who suggested I contact Reverend Kevin Turpin, the founder of Norfolk’s Life Enrichment Center (LEC), a non-profit organization providing literacy tutoring and other life-giving initiatives for elementary students from Title I Schools in Hampton Roads.  Shortly after, I had completed my training and background check and was ready to begin volunteering at Jacox Elementary.  To me, the LEC’s most brilliant and noble cause in connecting Norfolk Police with the community against whom the law is commonly enforced.  Every Tuesday morning at 11 o’clock, we volunteers–most in police uniforms performing on-the-clock duties, others in their Sunday best, surely members of Rev. Turpin’s church, and a few more, including myself–arrived to serve a school which recently lost its accreditation, and racist cliche “The wrong side of the tracks” manifested every day.  Turning right on Geoff St. from Church St. first renders a unique view of the historic St. Mary’s Cemetery, which we commonly drive by reflecting on the beauty of life after death, but a few hundred yards forward renders a different side of town: abandoned buildings surrounded by barb-wire fences crumbling to rust, foundations sinking under windows replaced with wood, teenagers holding hands playing hookie without condoms.

Every Tuesday, I passed by this ignored section of our Norfolk to park in front of Jacox Elementary, wave hello to the on-duty police officers, sign in at the front office, and proceed down the hall to a first-year teacher’s classroom to find Desireyon, a five-year-old Kindergartener who could only read his name.

At the beginning he was afraid, and perhaps I was too.  The frustration that hums continually in the rooms and halls of Jacox Elementary bears down like fog, making it hard to see much further than a few steps ahead.  Desireyon looked at me with the unsure eyes of a five-year-old, the same eyes I see in my daughter’s gaze when she is unsure of trying something new.  This was a brand new assignment: gaining the trust of a child as a stranger.

Desireyon and I became pals.  Each day, we started by writing his first name, then his first and last name, then his first, middle, and last name.  Then we took on the dolch word list, a collection of a few dozen sight words all children his age are expected to know, and after all his hard work, we’d wind down by playing literacy games on the computer via the Starfall and iReady educational websites.

After a full academic year of Tuesdays, Desireyon could write and read all his assigned words and was working towards reading books to me.  More than anything, though, I remember a Jacox teach pulling me aside and saying, “Thank you for talking to him like that.”  It did not seem like a big deal to me at first, but I came to realize that this teacher wasn’t talking about teaching Desireyon to read or write.  She didn’t say, “Thanks for talking to him; thanks for following the curriculum; thanks for making sure he’s competent in the skills he needs to start first grade.”  She instead meant thank you for talking to, rather than down to, him.  At least that is what I’ve come to think she meant.

I was invited back by the LEC site coordinator Wanda Turpin, but this past year, my eldest daughter, Eliza, started first grade at Cedar Rd. elementary, and I joined her as a Watch D.O.G. (Dads of Great Students).  Here, there is no fog.  There is not a teacher surprised to find a volunteer who speaks to students with interest, joy, and love.  Rather, these connections are a prerequisite to employment and participation, not an exception.  With so many other opportunities unfolding in my professional life, some of which I’ll explore in the lines below, and my paternal desire to accompany my daughter with her transition to public schools, I suppose the cycle of white privilege continues, at least in Eliza’s case.

All of this is not to fetishize poverty, or “feel good about feeling bad,” as one of my mentors says about engaging the socioeconomically othered; rather, I intend to experience life, service, and teaching as they truly are, not in mythologized terms of American dreams,  exceptionalism, and democracy.

Respecting full disclosure, I initiated my partnership with the LEC and Jacox with my ODU students in mind.  I was hoping to cultivate a service-learning opportunity in the coming semesters, and wanted to pilot the experience for myself, or “lead by example,” as Rev. Turpin put it.  However, Rev. Turpin was unwilling to consent to my vision, of assigning one Jacox student to a section of my English Composition course on a rotating basis; essentially, I had planned to bring one or two students a week over the course of an ODU semester.  I understand Rev. Turpin’s hesitancy, however, as a primary objective of the LEC mission is to create lasting community connections: he was unsure that a different volunteer each week would be an unfair experience to the Jacox student.

This point leads me to my students at ODU, and perhaps, another square one.

March 2018 marks one year of service to Humanities Behind Bars (HBB), the prison education effort co-founded by Dr. Alison Reed.  In a further effort to connect classroom and community, each week, I am booked into Norfolk City Jail to lead a 90 minute class on music and writing.  To articulate my experiences in the jail in a few paragraphs is challenging, if impossible.  The dynamics of power, hierarchy, and dehumanization are captured perhaps only by the dozens of pages I have written recounting and reflecting of the specific experiences of each day, details which go beyond the purpose of this writing.  I have, however, gained a profound trust and understanding of the Norfolk community that is more comfortably kept locked out of sight and mind.

Pedagogical implications for my volunteering for HBB are numerous.  In addition to cultivating an element of anti-racist content in the classroom, my students are able to engage in experiential and service-learning both in and out of the jail.  Students, mainly those with human rights or criminal justice backgrounds and interests may either enter my jailed classroom, accompanied by me, of course, as a guest student or instructor.  If perhaps other students are not interested in entering the tax-funded fortress of concrete and cages, understandably so, they might also engage with the jailed population via a pen pal exchange, in which case I collect and hand-deliver the writing of ODU and jailed students.  ODU students introduce themselves, though sharing names is not mandatory, express a reaction to something they have learned about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), and end with a positive, encouraging message. My hope is that by directly engaging with a disenfranchised population, students might gain a more realistic understanding of the complexities of criminality, hopefully, gaining a critical understanding of what it means to be a human behind bars.  Students are minimally required to commit to two letter exchanges, which become primary data for for their own reflective essays on service to and experience with the community; however, students have struck me as inspirational a number of times when upwards of ten letters are exchanged between one or two students in a semester.  Specifically, a meaningful connection was forged between a jailed student, who was in his 64th year of age and wisdom, and a student of my English Composition II class.  Their words, written all by hand, reflect learning, understanding, and genuineness of a level much deeper than I have typically read in a paper-for-a-grade, so to speak.

This, however, is not to say that directly engaging with those affected by the system of criminality is a requirement of my classes, even if we discuss explicitly discuss and examine scholarship on the topic.  In fact, I allow students the agency to consider what service and experience is most meaningful to them, in terms of passions, interests, and professional networks.  To assist them, I share other community opportunities which include the IGNITE food pantry, located across the street for Webb Center, Habitat for Humanity, and the Up Center, some of which I discovered while co-representing HBB at a Norfolk-sponsored reentry summit which collected a network of volunteer and employment opportunities for  those recently paroled or released from prison and jail.  I encourage students to find a service opportunity that will align with their passions and perhaps enhance their marketability and vocational networks.

An additional experiential opportunity which I make available to my students is hosted by the Global Monarch Club (GMC), a student-led organization hosted under the supervision of ODU’s Office of Intercultural Relations (OIR).  The GMC supports the Office of Intercultural Relations (OIR) in connecting students of diverse backgrounds, creating an inclusive community and promoting diversity and intercultural understanding.  The GMC’s Mentorship for International Learning & Engagement (MILE) is an innovative program designed to enhance the international learning and engagement of the American student. In this mentorship experience, current international students who are interested in sharing culture and enhancing their engagement with American students can apply to be a mentor for the MILE program. Likewise, American students who are interested in international learning and enriching their experience on campus can request to have an international mentor.

Last spring, Dr. Rachawan Wongtrirat, Assistant Director for International Initiatives, and I partnered to expand the GMC MILE experience to 19 sophomores students of my English Composition course. This experiential learning component to the writing course (1) connected students to the numerous events hosted by the OIR, including meet and greets, global cafes, and end-of-semester events, (2) featured to two in-class workshops lead by the GMC to raise the students’ intercultural awareness and competencies, and (3) assigned an international student as personal mentor to each American student of sophomore composition.  Mentors and mentees were first connected via email, then encouraged to meet independently to cultivate friendship, networking, and intercultural understanding.  At the end of the semester, Matheson’s composition students were required to produce a 1000 word essay that summarized, evaluated, and reflected on their experience with the GMC and their mentors.

Prior to their mentorship experience, Matheson’s composition student were administered a survey from the Kozai Group which measured student competencies according to an Intercultural Effectiveness Scale (IES).  After the mentorship experience, students were administered a posttest, the results of which demonstrate an increase in the aforementioned competencies, especially in the category of “global mindset.”

Perhaps one student’s testimony captures it best.  “For me, this experience has done so much good for my outlook on the world. I now realize the world is so much bigger than Hampton Roads.  I now realize that differences aren’t important if you don’t let them be, and you shouldn’t let them be. This idea will help me in the future, as I plan to be an elementary school teacher, I will come across so many different ethnicities, religions, and more. What I realize now is that that is okay, even good. This experience was a realization that no matter how far apart, people from different cultures can still find common ground and can connect on different ways.”

Accordingly, Dr. Wongtrirat, the GMC, and I expanded the MILE program to two sections of English Composition this fall 2017 semester, one freshman and one sophomore, to further the Global Monarch Club’s motto “connect globally, engage locally.”

Also, to further serve the needs and interests of our international student population, I have served three semester on the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB), an effort which earned me the ISAB Faculty Member of the Year award in the fall of 2017.

Nevertheless, my pedagogy is not limited to service, experiential learning, and community engagement. During the summer of 2013, I had the privilege of participating in Old Dominion University’s E-Portfolio Institute.  Many hours of guided readings and workshops strengthened my knowledge and pedagogy of English studies and prepared me to elicit data for the university’s e-portfolio pilot study.  This professional development opportunity transformed how I teach writing, from an approach that relied heavily on the second wave of writing assessment and current traditionalism to a teaching philosophy informed by the third wave of writing assessment, genre theory, and portfolio keeping. 

I came to believe teacher/student interaction with learning outcomes is key. At Edward M. White’s suggestion in Assigning, Responding, Evaluating I now triangulate student exposure to learning outcomes in (1) assigning, (2) responding to, and (3) evaluating their work: assigning students material with defined learning outcomes and responding with feedback designed to aid student success at the final evaluation. Furthermore, I now see portfolios as invaluable; students document learning as a process to include a variety of skills, contexts, rhetorical situations, and genres, thus developing and proving an awareness of their learning. Throughout a semester, students monitor their learning progress within the framework of metacognition first explored by John Flavell and since adopted as a component of third wave assessment. Students are challenged to archive course work and identify areas of challenge and success in their learning processes. At a semester’s end, successful students produce documented proof of learning outcome acquisition.

I strive to foster a community of learning.  In class, I encourage discussion and feedback prior to autonomous student work, as group analysis of topics can lead to problem solving and clarification.  With student work drafted, I incorporate peer review so students can explore the twofold benefit of modeling and feedback.  Post-writes accompany all peer reviewed work and encourage reflection while giving the reviewer some context for analysis. Also, instructor conferences are accompanied by project proposals, followed by student-designed revision plans.   

In my evaluation of students, I hope (per further suggestion by White) that assessment be a guide for creativity rather than an obstacle.  I calculate assignment weight to varying degrees of risk and revision opportunity.  Further, student success is based on their acquisition of discipline specific-vocabulary. Often, terminology is embedded in skill and genre (e.g. objective correlative, triangulation, rhetorical lens).

I utilize technology to a significant extent in my classrooms, as new forms of media continue to shape and change student culture.  As technology has fostered the bloom of multimodal scholarship, my students are certain to analyze and create textual, visual, and oral acts of communication.  I encourage students to explore the advantages their devices can afford them.  Laptops become windows to the world in group discussions; smartphones are vessels for assignment sharing.  

Collaborative work at a distance is achieved through Google software.  Once groups are assembled, I create a Google Doc and share it with individual group members. All composing happens in this space,  and every member of the group is expected to contribute to the composing process; Google Docs allows me to track who contributes and how much.  Within this context, technology is invaluable to student collaboration and instructor assessment, not to mention the countless digital conferences which occur via “Google Chats” at a distance.  Every evening, Monday-Thursday, I log on to my instructor account to check for students in need, finding one every other week.  One such conference is linked here.

Furthermore, I have extended my experience with technology-driven pedagogy as a volunteer peer reviewer for the Computer Assisted Language Learning Interest Section (CALL-IS) for TESOL International. In preparation for its quarterly publication, I review prospective newsletter submissions for Larry Udry, CALL-IS newsletter editor. Letters from the editor with thanks are linked here and here.

As I believe the study of English is multidisciplinary, my courses are designed to incorporate a subject scope that can be inclusive rather than exclusive. Therefore, I bring many elements into the classroom from advertisements and popular culture, to politics and global events. I focus on the richness of literary and rhetorical tradition, fostering an appreciation for the literature and language itself.  However, I am careful to avoid transforming a writing course to text-based or literature intensive.  Texts are used as tools for analyzing arguments and appeals.  This involves changing the way students think and encouraging them to confront what they believe in light of facts and evidence.

My teaching philosophy is further enhanced by review of professional literature, for example, Ferris & Roberts’ “Error Feedback in L2 Writing Classes,” which concludes “that less explicit feedback seemed to help these students to self-edit just as well as corrections coded by error type.”  This conclusion sparked my interest.  Less explicit feedback is as effective as coded feedback?  Now, my feedback isn’t “coded” in that I require my students to refer to a key to decipher my responses to their writing, but I do use grammatical language to explain why an error is an error.  So how does the “less explicit feedback” compare to my work?

This question led me to Jean Chandler, who writes that “direct correction and simple underlining of errors are significantly superior to describing the type of error,” and that “direct correction is best for producing accurate revisions.”  O.K., one answer emerges clearly from the literature, that less explicit feedback works better than responding with the language of grammar, but I couldn’t keep myself from questioning Chandler’s broader conclusion that “direct correction is best for producing accurate revisions.”  That if we correct our students’ papers for them, their writing will demonstrate fewer errors.  With all due respect, I couldn’t understand how such a conclusion could be published in such a prestigious journal.

My skepticism in the literature led me to Charlene Polio, who in response to the debate over error correction, concludes that “It is obvious that a writer can look at direct corrections and copy them onto a new piece of paper.”  Certainly, this is obvious.

Nevertheless, I have since used the insight about less explicit feedback to streamline the process of grading student essays.  Now, I mark and describe the first few instances of a grammatical error, only marking it afterwards, which saves significant time.  Grading efficiently is important, especially if the extra effort of writing out grammatical explanations throughout student writing makes no measurable difference.

Nevertheless, this sequence of readings was too a sequence of conversations with other writing instructors at the ELC who too have changed their approaches to grading.  I’m sure a few grammar coding sheets were discarded, carpal tunnel relieved.  

I am further struck by Don Daiker’s “Learning to Praise.”  I relate Daiker’s insight on apprehensive writers to my students, that if

“they anticipate negative consequences, they avoid writing. Yet the avoidance of writing–the lack of practice–leads to further negative consequences: writing of poor quality that receives low grades and unfavorable comments.”

I encourage my students to break this cycle of apprehensive writing by simply letting their writing be free of pressure and judgment, reminding them to adopt Anne Lamott’s lesson on “Shitty First Drafts.”  Especially in the initial stages of taking a class and drafting assignments, I encourage my students to consciously overcome their apprehension and remove roadblocks they set for themselves.  Taking the pressure off of students in the beginning is key to later insights.  As Peter Elbow tells us in “Embracing Contraries,” “Not only does it help to go whole hog with one mentality, but (he is) not afraid to make a fool of myself.”  Our students aren’t fools, and sometimes they need to be reminded of that.  What’s more, as Elbow tells us in the same breath, “(He) can generate more and better when I consciously hold off critical-minded revising till later.”   This is what writing to learn is all about.  I devote significant time in my classrooms to writing; that way I’m sure students understand the importance invention holds to good writing.

I was further struck by Elbow in how he explores the teacher’s role of both gatekeeper and ally.  I take my responsibility as a student ally very seriously.  To me, good teaching is good mentoring, and good mentors focus on building relationships with their mentees.  They invest themselves wholly with a deep concern for the wellbeing of those whom they are responsible for guiding.   Students can sense if they are valued, and this can make or break some learning experiences.

Beyond professional development within the literature of English studies is assignment development within my classrooms.

In recent years, my archives have shifted to Google Drive, further improving my course design, lectures, and assignment sheets. For example, I was recently clicking back through old portfolios and found a prewriting activity for memoir which I had not yet mentioned in the current semester, a sketching activity.  In preparation for ENGL 211C this semester, I rediscovered an assignment sheet I delivered to students in Graduate Bridge Writing via my teaching position at the ELC.  Originally adapted from an example of Dr. Kevin Depew of ODU, students write an IMRAD paper with some minor modifications.  This experience further illustrates the value of archiving: valuable materials might otherwise slip through the cracks of time.

I furthermore, I upgraded my ENGL 110C essay sequence to a “revision scaffold” of my own devising to extend and better manage student exposure to writing and revision. There are three levels to the scaffold, illustrated below.

In this assignment sequence, students compose and revise their essays according to a “Discovering, Mastering, and Capstone” revision sequence. Students write four essays at the “Discovering Genres” level, two of which are revised to the “Mastering Genres” level, one of which is revised as the “Capstone Revision.” Not only does this sequence extend the number of weeks students work on each essay, but also elicits markedly improved student writing. Working through three levels of writing and revision requires students to critically analyze their writing via instructor feedback, conferences, and a clear writing process. Also, as students progress through the scaffold, grade weight increases; thus, students are responsible for low-risk assignments which become a full-fledged, semester project.

An additional assignment upgrade was discovered via a brown bag lunch topic, hosted by ODU’s English department, and applied to my “documented essay” assignment, that thesis-driven writing my students compose in the final third of the semester.  With a single due date for the entire documented essay assignment in previous semesters, I found student procrastination, and my former assignment’s timeframe in general, led to sloppy work.  With sloppy writing determining 20% of a final grade, I saw many students plummet in the final month of the semester.  One suggestion even showed up in my student opinion surveys that more time on the documented essay would have helped.

Accordingly, I revised and developed my “documented essay” assignment sheet to reflect a “semester paper” assignment sequence, first for the ELC, with approval from my department head, David Silvis, who has since suggested I share my progress at an upcoming curriculum development week, then to fit my existing ENGL110C semester sequence.

Here are the before and after links to the assignment sheets.

In either version, students must demonstrate argumentation, but a clear process for arriving to the intended product wasn’t mapped prior to 2105.   What’s more, students now work on an evolving draft with four stages of instructor feedback, instead of a one-time assessment.  As the rhetorical situation evolves from proposal to research, and from expository to argumentative, students demonstrate an evolving rhetorical awareness which was not so comprehensively explored in previous semesters.  Also, to accommodate the revised assignment sequence I extended the assignment timeline from three weeks to five.  Students now enjoy the benefit of clarity extra time affords a fresh set of eyes, as the extended amount of time students write correlates with the depth of thinking their topics receive.

Also in 2015, I piloted an additional new approach to the documented essay assignment, inspired by the idea of community-based feedback explored by Margrethe Ahlschwede in “Writing to Save the World.”  Within the semester paper assignment sequence I nestled a presentation requirement between students’ first write up of research and a week of instructor/student conferences.  After students delivered presentations, the class responded to three questions of my prompting:

  1. Of the views in the presentation, with which do you agree?  Give at least one reason why you agree, in other words one reason why you think one is the stronger case.
  2. Name at least one issue the presentation didn’t cover which you feel should be in the student’s final draft.
  3. Offer one complement to the writer.  What did you like the best about the writer’s presentation and treatment of the topic?

Thus awarded 18 responses to their work, presenters gained an idea of the strength of their arguments, the benefit of a class-wide brainstorm on how their ideas might be expanded, and a final word of encouragement in the process, not to mention a feel for how an audience of their peers might react to their positions.  What’s more, the following week after presentations, as I conferenced with each student, my notes on their presentations from the week prior led to more fruitful conferences discussions.

The results of the assignment revision have been outstanding, some of the best writing I’ve seen from students international and domestic.

Proud of these insights, I delivered a presentation of my findings to my colleagues at TCC’s college-wide Faculty Development Day in October, a further example of how ODU’s English department’s proactivity has positive reach beyond BAL.

When I began teaching for ODU in 2013, I received some less than positive feedback from students on their opinion surveys. The bulk of complaints pointed out social distance between student and instructor; in short, I had not considered the instructor/student relationship properly, nor had I cultivated a classroom culture of respect and openness.

In my most recent years at ODU, I consider this issue well addressed. Although I continue to learn from teaching and reconsider my course design by consequence, my student opinion surveys point out that I am “helpful . . . passionate . . . welcoming . . . (and) challenging,” while students are encouraged to be “creative . . . responsible . . . (and) social.” One student described his/her experience as follows: “He puts more effort into his 110 class than I’ve seen some professors in 400 (level) courses. That says something.”

As failure to cultivate a fertile learning environment was of deep concern to me as a novice educator, I consider each of these responses as personal and professional successes. 

A few semesters back, at a “meet the author” presentation, ENGL 110C textbook author Matthew Parfitt requested all present faculty share their favorite aspect of the profession.  Mostly we answered to some variation of the teachable moment, that moment when everything clicks, and the student says, “Ah ha!”  That’s the thing we love about teaching.

I thought about this answer and instead said, “The students,” when my turn to share came.  “The students are my favorite part about teaching because their minds are so, so . . .” I continued but couldn’t find the right adjective.  “Impressionable.”

As my turn passed I realized that wasn’t the right word at all.

I’ve turned this over in my mind for the weeks since, and I may have finally found the right words if not the right idea.

I’ll venture to say that at least some of the students who arrive to ODU are less than interested in the “intellectual quests” we assign them.  That’s why cultivating meaningful relationships with our students is so important.  Granted, some of my students are so driven they’ll succeed regardless of how much they can’t stand a professor.  How many others, though, aren’t so determined?  Many are ready to give up at the first sign of challenge.  Many of our students need something more than streamlined pedagogy and scaffolded assignments.  It is this something more that I love most about teaching.

Really, good teaching is good mentoring, and good mentors focus on building relationships with their mentees.  They invest themselves wholly with a deep concern for the wellbeing of those whom they are responsible for guiding.   Students can sense if they are valued, and this can make or break some learning experiences.

Based on my teaching evaluations, I believe my students sense my investment in who they are and the knowledge journey they’re beginning at ODU.

“The thing I adored most about Professor Kole was how much he cared about us.”

“He’s the only professor that actually got to know me and would know my name if he saw me on the street unlike my other professors.”

Every day in class I make a point to talk with every student, to connect with them on multiple levels, both academic and popular.  I become a guide between worlds, someone who can speak both languages, the language they arrive with and the language of the academy.  In establishing this connection with students, I become an ally who can navigate both worlds, which makes the academic world less intimidating, far off, exclusive, pretentious, and sterile.  

Once students see my personal investment, that I am their mentor and ally, they are much more likely to open up, stake a claim in the course, and produce their best work.  They are more likely to engage with an instructor they respect, admire, and desire to interact with.  This motivation is powerful to a student, and only greater academic progress manifests by consequence.  In this spirit, my students report that

“His ability to relate and provide positive feedback to his students was refreshing and encouraged me to work harder.”

“I believe that Mr. Matheson’s enthusiasm for the course inspired me to want to do better and pass the course.”

But good teaching takes more than passion and relationships.  Good teachers, and more importantly, engaged students, are discovered in a safe place that encourages self-expression and taking risks.  I’m reminded of Stephen Krashen’s affective filter idea—that under stress, the mind has no space for learning, no matter the quality of an instructor’s pedagogy.

“The professor made me feel comfortable with asking questions and answered them all in a way that was clear and informative.”

“I liked how everyone got along, and the instructor engaged with everyone.”

The latter part of the last student response is the intended outcome of a safe environment for thinking and sharing.  Students are only closer to their goal of education if they can find a place where their ideas are respected, challenged, and developed.

From this place in the semester, once everyone is acquainted and comfortable with me, one another, and how class is run, quality content becomes the driving force to inspire a genuine hunger for questions and knowledge.  On a daily basis, I challenge my students with real world and English-specific questions to get them used to sustaining informed and respectful discussions in the academy.  Thus, students reported a number of comments which highlight their experiences with course content.

“I love how the topics we research and discuss are relevant to what is going on in the world, and it is never boring.”

“My class asks questions.  We constantly have group discussions to get general perspectives of our peers.”

At this point in the semester narrative, the class is beginning to reach its full potential, and some more practical observations demonstrate how I maintain closeness with my students.  Many days, students need more than 50 minutes.

“The instructor was always there for me and willing to take time and help all the students.”

“Our grades were updated quickly, and we could expect an email back soon after we contacted him.”

After all the class meetings, assignments, lessons, conversations, and breakthroughs, after true relationships form between instructor and students, after the door of learning opens, and we walk through together, what a wonderful place to be, a place where I witness the maturation of my students, both socially and academically.

This is what I love most about teaching.  Every semester I see my classes evolve, similar to how all relationships evolve.  Through these relationships, I believe, my students find a passion for learning that serves them for life.

Simply put I love my students and my students love me.  I think about them all the time, (probably because I don’t get out much), which makes “work” almost natural.  How many late night breakthroughs of my own I have after a day’s pondering with students.  My only struggle is getting up to find a pen in the bedroom after dark.