Teaching as Rebellion
rejecting assumptions to achieve success
“Since you know everything, maybe you should teach the fifth graders decimals and fractions.”
“Okay,” I replied. “That sounds like fun.”
Having corrected my sixth grade teacher’s math yet again—in this instance, reminding her a that circle has 360 degrees, not 180—she determined delivering a mini-lesson and sitting at the tutoring table would somehow teach me proper classroom etiquette. Instead, I created a pizza parlor menu and a page of questions that asked how much various combinations would cost for groups of different sizes. My parents found themselves at the school (a somewhat regular occurrence), sitting across from this teacher as she proclaimed that I destined for failure. I failed to understand our place in society and the respect due teachers.
By eighth grade, teachers had described my family as “trailer park trash,” “uneducated hicks,” “farmworkers” (apparently a bad thing), and me as “crippled,” “stupid,” and “mentally retarded.” Being obstinate and compelled to confront challenges, teaching was the obvious career path.
My college and university teaching experiences include academic composition, creative writing, technical writing, public speaking, philosophy, literature, and computing technology. Since earning my doctorate in 2010, I have held adjunct instructor, visiting professor, and assistant teaching professor posts. With solid teaching evaluations and productive scholarly research, I desire a full-time, tenure-track professorship.
Rhetoric of Film and Digital Technology
My research and teaching focus on the rhetoric of narrative, with a special interest in the rhetoric of cinema and live theater. Following the advice of colleagues, I am completing a master of fine arts degree in film and digital technology at Chatham University. To expedite the degree, I enrolled full-time in courses and declined an adjunct post for 2015–16. Though my doctorate in rhetoric prepared me to teach theoretical courses, updating my film production and digital design skills enhances the potential to teach hands-on digital media courses.
Colleges and universities often consider rhetoric, communications, and writing positions service work. I have discovered that teaching the required general education courses sometimes limits career growth and research opportunities. The MFA in film and digital technology demonstrates my abilities to teach new media and digital humanities courses.
During the 2013–14 academic year, I served as an adjunct teaching professor of business communication at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following several faculty retirements, the dean of instruction invited me to serve as a visiting assistant professor for the 2014–15 academic year. During my two years at CMU, I taught Business Communications, a survey course of workplace writing and oral presentations, and Writing for Economists, a technical writing course.
The CMU students were the hardest working and most dedicated individuals I have met. The Tepper School consistently ranks among the top five business schools in the nation. The students possess talents across the disciplines, with double majors in music, art, history, engineering, computer science, and countless other fields. Students also complete two internships and many study abroad for a full year.
Although I enjoyed interacting with the students and remain in contact with many, the Tepper School of Business limits the communications faculty to the ranks of “teaching professor.” The school reserves advancement and research opportunities for professors of business, finance, marketing, and mathematics. I learned that marketing courses included digital media design and production, which influenced my decision to earn an MFA.
Literature, Technical Writing, and Philosophy
Before teaching at CMU, I spent two years on the faculty of Robert Morris University, in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. At RMU, I taught an unusual variety of courses: history of the essay genre, technical writing, technical editing, public speaking, and the introductory philosophy class. Many of the courses were offered both on campus and online.
I taught philosophy using Nina Rosenstand’s The Moral of the Story. This approach allowed me to explore philosophical schools of thought from the rhetoric of narrative. The evaluations were positive and other faculty adopted the text. I used a similar strategy when teaching the history of essay writing, focusing on the rhetorical techniques of essayists.
Declining enrollment left me with five students in one course and two in another. Faculty members with tenure were moved across degree programs and even to departments outside their specializations. As the university reevaluated degree programs and course offerings, I recognized that RMU could not provide the teaching and research opportunities I desired. I am concerned that small, tuition-dependent colleges and universities might not adapt quickly enough to survive.
My journey towards a university professorship began in 2004, when I enrolled at California State University, Fresno, as a graduate student in composition theory and rhetoric. My research emphasis at Fresno State was the rhetorical nature of cinema and stage. As I later did at RMU, I used my interest in narrative and media to create thematic college composition courses.
I taught three first-year composition sections at Fresno State. The themes of my courses were “Rhetoric and Art” and “Art in the Digital Age.” Having a unified theme helped students expand on assignments throughout the semester. Because many students were enrolled in art and media degree programs, the themes appealed to their passions.
Recognizing that students feared a “writing” course, I encouraged them to experiment with their assignments. Beyond the guided curriculum, my students assembled artistic portfolios and delivered presentations on their projects. Artistic projects ranged from photography to original music compositions. I sought to blur distinctions between “academic” and “creative” writing so students could appreciate the creative nature of academic writing and the rhetorical natures of creative works.
After completing my master’s degree in English composition and rhetoric, I accepted a generous fellowship offer to pursue my doctoral degree at the University of Minnesota. As a rhetoric graduate student, I was presented with the opportunity to teach public speaking my first year on campus. During the remainder of my studies, I taught professional and technical writing courses. The university writing requirements for all undergraduates resulted in the need for extra sections of advanced writing courses.
The student population at the University of Minnesota differed from that of Fresno State in dramatic ways. My students at the University of Minnesota were more likely to bring laptop computers to class and none had an issue with access to technology. Many of the students at Minnesota had used online content during their high school educations.
Each section of technical writing I taught included a service-learning requirement. Working with a local non-profit organization to create a report or study, the students had a genuine audience and their efforts directly affected the community. Projects ranged from preparing safety manuals to creating bilingual marketing materials. Despite some initial resistance, students developed strong connections to local causes.