Whether writing a research paper or a piece of prose, writing is a form of expression. I want to help writers grow and develop their own approach to writing, which means acting as a support instead of an authority. My teaching philosophy is based on my experiences as an English teaching intern at Truman College, a branch of the City Colleges of Chicago, and my time as a peer tutor at DePaul UCWbL. As a tutor and teaching intern, I would guide writers so their work remains clear and organized. My teaching subsists of formative feedback and support that fosters independence and individuality in writing.
During my student teaching internship at Truman College, a branch of the City Colleges of Chicago, I worked with Department of Communication Director Kate Gillespie and her English 102 class, which focuses specifically on research and argumentative papers. My role as a student teacher mostly included assisting Professor Gillespie with students’ questions, working one-on-one with students in class, and reading or grading paper drafts. I enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with Professor Gillespie. The patience, dedication, and respect she showed her students was inspiring. She taught me how to grade with a fine-tooth comb, exercise compassion without yielding, and how to respect students’ work but also challenge it. After students turned in papers, Professor Gillespie and I would meet after class and review the essays. These hour-long conferences were extremely beneficial, not just to learn about grading but to talk about the mechanics, joys, and pains of teaching at a two-year college. We talked about the difference between formative and substantive grading — one is more like editing (used when drafting), the other is final or for a grade (used for the final paper). I think I leaned towards formative approaches because I wanted to see them grow rather than evaluate them by performance.
Stylistically, I want writers to have autonomy over their own work. There is no right or wrong way to write. I implement this by offering feedback that asked questions rather than revised. I would ask the student, “how would you phrase that?” or, if suggesting an idea, say, “how would you put that in your own words?” By offering open alternatives, I hope to provide new avenues of thought or research that would garner independent thinking to continue the editing process on their own. Independence stems from instilling confidence within the writer so they can continue themselves. This goal can be achieved through motivational scaffolding. With motivational scaffolding, I give the writer support by building rapport, supporting the writer’s ideas and offering positive feedback when I notice something done well with the paper. I can help instill confidence in writers by including rapport. To build rapport I will make sure that positive feedback is included when evaluating work, whether it is highlighting a strong argument or praising correct citations.
While I knew community college teaching would be difficult, I was not prepared for how invested I would be in my students’ life and learning. I add this as a difficulty because I realized, at times, I cared more about the students’ grades than they did. I know college students are often juggling a lot of responsibilities at once, especially in community colleges when some are working full-time, are parents, are second-language learners, or are from low-income households. I’m sure this was aggravated during the pandemic. Yet, students would not turn in work, or routinely miss class, or even flat-out plagiarize work. I wanted them to do well because I wanted to see them succeed, but from an educator standpoint their work was not up to the class requirements. I know life will only get harder and more hectic, so I want to be there to provide as much support as possible, even if they feel they do not need or necessarily want support.
Once the course moved online for social distancing reasons, though, many students that lacked self-direction or were simply too busy fell through the cracks and ended up taking incompletes for the semester. Students who were quieter but dedicated ended up surprising Professor Gillespie and I with some insightful, well-researched papers that were engaging to read. Watching their writing improve from the reading response paper to the final research paper was rewarding as an educator (and I hope for the students, as well). These students were able to get the attention they needed during the transition because some of the other students who needed more direction in class were no longer present online.
It is rewarding to watch students learn, and I believed learning was more important than execution. I was often easier on students with grammar or sourcing than Professor Gillespie and was more concerned with the depth of their research and analysis rather than the structural components. Most of my comments were formative or editorial and pushed for further critical thinking. I will admit, I did not really care about mechanics or grammar, especially as some students were ESL or had rough mechanics but solid arguments. Function over form has always been my philosophy. I want to see students critically engaging with the material, asking questions, and forming their own analyses. I understand it can be hard to measure growth, but I found communication, engagement, and interest in the class more important than simply fulfilling the course requirements. As a goal, I want students to feel empowered when writing and researching.