Teaching Philosophy

Like John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and bell hooks, I support education as the practice of freedom.  However, in the spirit of Peter Elbow, Mary Rose O’Reilley, Natalie Goldberg, Parker Palmer, and Thich Nhat Hanh, I advocate for mindfulness practices in the English classroom that will assist students in achieving a freedom that one can only obtain when s/he learns to be in the present moment—free of judgments, free of preconceived ideas and structures, free of constraints, free of the “monkey mind” that deters human beings from being with what is, right NOW.  Hence, I believe that a contemplative pedagogy can help students to obtain such freedom.

A contemplative pedagogy is a process, style, strategy, or approach to instruction that infuses learning with the experience of present awareness, which is honed through the practice of mindfulness meditation practice.  It is a method of instruction intended to assist students, as well as their teachers, in awakening and opening their minds to new learning possibilities and more effective ways of being in the classroom.  By way of mindfulness meditation, a contemplative pedagogy works to create a free—perhaps untapped—space for inquiry, creativity, self-reflection, and self-intimacy within the traditional learning environment.  With that said, as a Rhetoric & Composition professor, I aim to apply mindfulness practices such as free writing, journaling, and personal narrative writing as brain“raining” activities that help students to uncover their authentic voices and assert them in traditional writing assignments.

According to Peter Elbow, composition theorist who is noted for the 10-minute free write exercise, “Writing is, in fact, a transaction with words whereby you free yourself from what you presently think, feel, and perceive.”  Hence, I believe that if students practice mindful writing exercises just as the meditator practices mindful breathing, then writing has the opportunity to help students rid themselves of the mind’s constant chatter—(Do my subjects and verbs agree? I can’t write five pages.  I wonder how much this paper is worth.  What does the teacher expect from me? I don’t know how to spell.)—that deters students’ creativity, spontaneity, and intimacy.  Instead, if students learn to trust their own voices, as well as to trust and be in the present moment, then they will not only avoid writing in what Ken Macrorie calls “Engfish[1],” but such mindfulness practices will also help students to cultivate compassion, respect, community, understanding, and appreciation for themselves and the other being—human and nonhuman.  Conjuring such virtues, then, will also help to foster safe, trust-worthy, loving in and out-side-of class relationships, which is important to maintaining all of humanity.

Moreover, as a professor, I find it important to build relationships with my students, not only so that learning is safe and fun, but so that I can make learning relative to students’ out-side-of school experiences so that they are engaged in the learning process and are equipped to be successful contributors to and reformers of their individual societies.  Through personal writing activities, I yearn to teach students how to remain humane under inhumane situations because it is only when teachers assist students in defining and maintaining their humanity that true education occurs.  A contemplative pedagogy will help to foster such relationships, for mindfulness practices—as simple as an instructor acknowledging a student’s presence by calling her by her name—engages both student and teacher in loving-kindness relationship with one another.  When student and teacher are engaged in the present moment, they are not attached to their preconceived judgments of the other, but are open to receiving each other and the world just as it is.  Therefore, if students can learn to be a community of learners within a classroom of diverse students, then they can bring their knowing outside of the Ivory Tower, thus helping to transform societies broken and disheveled by hate, loneliness, segregation, and dis-ease.

Furthermore, as I build relationships with students, I find it necessary to open myself to being a learner who receives the knowledge that my students are able to impart on me.  In other words, I believe in transferring my authority to students, therefore releasing the titles that often promote hierarchy and mistrust.  I believe in letting my students know that I am not an expert, and that each of us has a genius that we can share with each other; this is not my classroom, it is our classroom.  As a professor promoting a contemplative pedagogy, I believe in seeing my students as instructors who have experiences from which I can learn, and hence, I allow them the space to teach me, as well as their classmates.  To not situate myself as a learner in the classroom, as well as within the circle of life, would be stunting to my progress as a teacher who believes that a contemplative pedagogy relies on the ability to be in the now—with all beings.  Therefore, mindfulness practices are activities that I, too, must engage in every day (in and out-side-of the classroom) in order for me to help arm students with the tools necessary to transform themselves and their society.  I must be the change I want to see in the world.

[1] In Telling Writing, Ken Macrorie coined the term “Engfish” to mean the academic language, or language that conceals rather than reveals a students’ personal self.