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Passion is undoubtedly the foundation of my approach to education. I begin every class day, individual conference and tutoring session from the basic premise that my own energy will foster positive and productive responses in students. In one dimension, this passion stems from the material at hand. Discussing the harrowing wonder of Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth or models for structuring a paragraph, for example, animates me in a manner students find affirmative—and at best, infectious. Yet on another level, my academic passion derives not only from reading literature and writing analytically, but from the act of engaging the subject with others. What students respond to even more than keenness toward the text at hand, I find, are outward demonstrations of my investment in their learning processes. I teach, in short, because I love working with whole people at least as much as I enjoy the content of any given class.

While this brand of passion persists throughout my teaching, I also recognize that intellectual energy only goes so far in truly effecting student growth. Thinking of education as a sort of chemical reaction, passion may serve as a powerful catalyst, but is not necessarily the key end product. My enthusiasm, therefore, works in balance with measured practicality and an unflinching eye for detail. What has driven my writing seminar courses is the notion of explanation: that we succeed as readers and writers by striving foremost for clarity, cohesion, and (where appropriate) simplicity. A common disconnect I aim for students to resolve is one between the complexity of an argument and the terms in which that argument is presented; the more intricate the claim, I maintain, the more urgently it demands a straightforward explanation.

I begin each of my classes by writing a quotation on the board. The one I use on the first day each semester is a wry observation of Thomas Mann’s: “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” While Mann ostensibly meant this as a humorous dig at his fellow writers, I also frame his words for students in a positive light. Writing, in my experience, is often seen as intimidating and amorphous, a practice in which students will freely admit to struggling. As such, from the earliest moments of a class, I affirm that seeing writing as a challenge is not only common, but a defining trait of the process. To borrow somewhat from Mann, recognizing the difficulty of writing can be the first and most important step to becoming a writer.

As a seasoned student, teacher and tutor of English, I know quite personally how hard it can be to render thoughts into just the right words. In the vein of explanation, I view my charge in teaching as proffering tools for students to “explain themselves,” in the most positive sense of the phrase. Whether evaluating a poem, an article, an advertisement, or their own lives, students should have firm structures at their disposal, molds that give shape to the fluid inner workings of their minds. Although I grant a large degree of freedom in choosing topics and approaches, under the conviction that genuine interest produces higher-quality work, I feel that students should never find themselves at a loss for concrete methods by which to tackle a given pursuit.

Ultimately, then, my approach to teaching entails a blend of careful consideration and passionate energy: of perspiration and inspiration. The work my students take up—known in my courses as “projects,” and never “assignments”—asks them at times to expand thoughts to their limits, to condense them, and to reframe them in fresh and untried ways. Through interaction in the form of both individual attention and active group discussions, I promote an open, collaborative environment within and beyond the classroom. A fundamental goal of my teaching is to strike a balance between liveliness and thoughtfulness, between energy and explanation, where each works to reinforce the other. Beyond this, though, I strive for students to blur the line between the two, or even to fuse them—and thereby not only to see explanation as a filter for passion, but to discover a passion for the act of explaining in itself.

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