maggie black









Statement of Teaching Philosophy



Underlying all of my courses is a deep commitment to cultivating the talents, curiosity, and rhetorical savvy my students bring to the classroom on the first day. I trust my students to share in the responsibility of designing a course that will inspire, engage, and challenge them. From the first day of class, students have a real, demonstrable say in what happens in the classroom, making meaningful contributions to the design of assignments, activities, and feedback through class discussion and anonymous Google surveys, the results of which are reported to the class. In this way, the students and I co-construct the course which. It is this co-construction that as one student put it, “I think it ultimately made us all want to work harder because we were actually excited and into what we were learning.” As a result, students almost unilaterally leave my courses both having enjoyed the class and feeling confident that they’ve improved their abilities as writers, reflecting, for example, that that “I felt like I really improved my writing, and I actually didn't hate doing it (which doesn't happen very often).”  

What I try to teach when I teach writing is that there are no rules, but that this does not mean that anything goes.

Ultimately, the goal of my classes is to teach students to see themselves writers, and thus, to write more and better. My first-year composition students often enter the classroom with what they see as very clear ideas about what is the very unclear, very contingent process of writing. My students tell me that, for them, academic writing is littered with rules. Never write in the first person. Never start a sentence with “but.” A thesis has three main points. There must be five sentences in a paragraph and five paragraphs in an essay. Academic writing, then, must seem so formulaic, mathematical. Follow these steps, this order of operations, and produce an academic essay.

What I try to teach when I teach writing is that there are no rules, but that this does not mean that anything goes. From here we can start the more complicated work of understanding intended audiences, rhetorical situations. Can I say “shit,” in an academic paper (or a statement of teaching philosophy for that matter)? Depends on who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about, and the effect you want to elicit from your audience. Can I cite a blog? Of course you can—as long as you’re citing it in an appropriate context and for a meaningful purpose. In other words, what I try to teach in my classes are ways of being a writer— that successful writing is almost always a co-construction of authorial purpose and rhetorical situation. The decisions we make as writers are contingent not on one standard of practices, because there are an infinite number of standards. Instead, successful writers recognize and meet the standards and conventions of the   communicative worlds they seek to enter. 

The assignments in my courses, then, often encourage students to explore what the study of writing can offer their own lives, from literacy histories of family members and future colleagues to mini-ethnographies of student dining halls to the politics of downloadable content in Madden Football or the university budget. Taking my cues from literacy ethnographer Shirely Brice Heath, I complete and share with the class every assigned piece of writing and, as such, share with students the responsibility and pleasure of exploring our rhetorical worlds. In this way, I work to model the authorial practices of successful writers—freewriting, drafting, investigative research (rather than utilitarian research), ruthless revision, careful and copious reading, resiliency in the face of criticism. I write papers with my students, invite them to pick apart my drafts, walk them through the really difficult and really inspiring moments during my own writing processes. I show them my own papers ruthlessly marked up by teachers and editors. This allows me to model the writing process, stay connected to my students’ experiences, and to foster a sense of reciprocity and community with students by sharing my own stories and stumbling-blocks. 

this class has literally challenged me like no previous English class I have taken before… This class is a lot of work, but... learning from [misakes] is what really matters.

Our class periods are lively, engaging, and purposeful—requiring all students to be actively engaged in the work of the class from beginning to end. While readings and small assignments often introduce course concepts, class periods are most often dedicated to developing experience with these concepts. When teaching research, for example, a class period is dedicated to a game in which students work to find particular information through particular and then demonstrate the process of developing useful search terms. When introducing argument, we begin by discussing arguments students have had with loved ones and analyze those arguments’ rhetorical moves. Students are then asked to participate in an argument online—through Instagram, YouTube, Facebook etc.—and then share these artifacts with the class as we analyze them for ethos, logos, pathos, and the logical fallacies often employed by their argumentative opponents. My classes aim to build on the funds of knowledge of students to help solidify core concepts of the course. 

Though class discussions are often light-hearted and assignments draw from the personal experiences and commitments of my students, my courses are nonetheless challenging. Though students note that they are often required to read, write, and research more than their peers in similar classes, students value the work and in student evaluations have always indicated that they enjoyed being challenged. Indeed, in course reviews, students have remarked that “this class has literally challenged me like no previous English class I have taken before… This class is a lot of work, but there's flexibility and a tremendously awesome teacher who coaches us and understands that mistakes happen and learning from them is what really matters.” It is my firm belief that writing improvement lies somewhere in the meeting of challenge and personal investment. This is what my courses seek to cultivate.