My approach to teaching is deeply rooted in Speech Communication’s tradition of engaged, participatory citizenship. In all of the classes I have taught—Introduction to Public Speaking, Communication and Information Technology I (both in-house and on-line)—I encourage my students to use the lessons learned in the classroom and put them to work out in their community. It is my belief that the art of rhetoric is uniquely situated to navigate the ever-changing terrain that students encounter as citizens. Every day they are met with various messages pulling them to and fro, and only when one engages in a critical analysis of these messages will she be able to respond in a critical manner.
I expect my students to actively engage their own learning and take ownership of mastering the course material. My role is that of a facilitator. The students come in with their own ideas, and I help push them farther into the critical realm so that they are taking their pre-existing interests and moving them into new territory. Promoting skills like critical thinking, audience analysis and adaptation, and clarity of expression enable students to engage new challenges and take control of their academic and personal voice. My lecture style is participatory, which means that students must contribute to the knowledge process in the classroom. My lectures draw heavily upon examples, encouraging student to think through the application of concepts beyond the textbook’s definition. I hope that this engagement and ownership then translates into their critical use of communication strategies outside the classroom. To foster this engagement, I prepare numerous prompts and provocations for each lesson, and I design my assignments to promote exploration.
While I push my students to think critically, I also attempt to create a supportive atmosphere where students are not afraid to try different lines of thought or presentation. To facilitate the building of a classroom-community, I make a commitment to learn my students’ names early in the semester and use them often, so the students know that I care about their progress, and so that other students learn their classmates’ names. The supportive community is never rooting for a student to fail, even if they disagree with their perspective. For example, when giving verbal feedback after speeches, students have to provide pointed feedback that will assist the speaker at improving the delivery of their message. Students learn the importance of reciprocation, as they feel partially exposed when speaking in front of the room. To show support, they must remain attentive to the speech, ask questions, and respect each other’s time. When my students leave the class at the end of the semester, I want them to feel as though they gained friends in the class and they know how to foster the feeling of community with any group of strangers.
While I have learned plenty in my first seven years of collegiate instruction, I always anticipate the next opportunity to challenge myself, be it with a new class or a new method of instruction. Whatever the class, I hope that my students walk out of the class understanding that concepts do not remain on the printed page but can be enacted and engaged in their daily lives. The tools I offer my students can be wielded as they engage already existing democracies and grow to be the citizen leaders of tomorrow.