As a teacher of literature, my primary goals are to demonstrate literature’s cultural importance through its ability to connect readers to each other while enacting positive practices of community building within the classroom. Within my courses, students learn to critically engage with texts and effectively communicate their ideas to others through various mediums. This lays the foundation that encourages students to form and extend their own communities outside the classroom.
In teaching courses focused on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, my aim
is to make even the most challenging text intelligible to all members of the classroom — majors and non-majors alike. For instance, sprawling and unfamiliar texts such as Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit become more legible to students through the use of games to simulate themes in the novel. To concretize Dickens’s complex city that nevertheless emphasizes a shared human condition, I had students play “Who Am I?” in my “Nineteenth-Century British Novel” course. Each student inhabited a character and had to constantly circulate the room, where they would “bump” into other students. This exercise not only allowed students to review their familiarity with the mass of minor characters found in Little Dorrit. It also demonstrated the small world principle of the novel, as like the students roleplaying these characters, any Dickensian individual can impact any other, despite income level or nationality.
To create this type of learning environment for courses at all levels of enrollment, not just small seminars of ten to twenty to students, I seek to adjust classroom activities so that all students have the opportunity to practice analysis. In a lecture on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, delivered to a class of ninety, we practiced reading the film alongside feminist theory. After I explained the cinematic concept of the “male gaze,” the students formed groups of five or six, discussed clips selected from the film, and then reported their findings to the class as a whole. The exercise did several things: It distributed the instructor’s gaze among the students and allowed students to connect with their peers, even with those to whom they had not previously spoken. When it was time to report to the class as a whole, they felt comfortable because they were able to view themselves as part of a collective group, working together.
No matter what type of media we study, my underlying objective is to have students understand the importance of cultural works and how they can apply their analysis to the “real world.” While reading Little Dorrit, for example, students recognized the parallels between the Marshalsea and the conditions of present-day prisons. Discussion allowed students to consider the ethics of incarceration and bridge the gap between the nineteenth century and the present. Similarly, by understanding the “male gaze” and its persistence in cinema, students recognized the relationship between the portrayal of women in media and society’s prescribed gender roles. Their study of Hitchcock gave them an opportunity to reflect on how they wanted to use the cinematic gaze in their own final film projects. Through critical analysis of others, students determine what they want to impart to audiences in their own work and how to effectively do so.
Learning to effectively communicate, through both the written and spoken word, is a skill any student in any field can apply broadly. As part of my Writing 101 and introductory writing-focused seminar on mystery fiction, students were required to give oral presentations about their final projects. In my mystery fiction class, for several students who designed original board games, this presentation took the form of a sales pitch. To create an effective demonstration, students practiced their speech and paid attention to their body language, made supplemental visual aids, and prepared to answer clarifying questions. Through this exercise, they learned how oral communication differed from their previous written assignments, especially in terms of their audience — while their analysis papers were geared toward an imagined scholarly audience, these presentations were created for a general public that had no previous knowledge of their product. By discussing how to take the skills they developed in my courses outside the classroom, students saw how their abilities to research, write, edit, and give effective oral presentations could be translatable to careers in the humanities and beyond.
I seek to create an ever-adapting environment to meet student needs and create
bridges within the university. To do so, I have created course policies, such as allowing laptops and tablets for class-related use, and established classroom norms to promote accessibility. At the beginning of the semester, I use a survey to asses student needs. This has, for example, let me know how to best accommodate my ESL students. In addition to this, I use midterm evaluations and visits from other instructors to gauge what parts of the course are working for students and what needs adjustments. Furthermore, I have sought to employ university resources to show expose students to their campus. For example, in each of my classes, students have visited the archives to learn about resources they could use in their research. Although I have received high scores on my evaluations and positive written feedback from students, as I continue teaching, I would like to continue working to create an inclusive environment that models for students effective personal and professional behavior.