My philosophy of teaching writing and rhetoric is energized by my disciplinary commitments and my experiences as a non-traditional student. First, I am an educator who teaches from pedagogical training in and commitments to rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies, writing center studies, technical and professional communication, and digital/cultural rhetorics. But before I became an educator, I was a gay, Mexican American, foster care alumnus who grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Texas and who dropped out of community college to be a florist. These experiential qualities of my life spark into the pedagogical kinesis of the following values, each deeply integral to my teaching.
I believe that culture is rhetorical and vice versa, and I tailor my curriculum so that students can hone their cultural, disciplinary, and rhetorical savvy against the backdrop of their commitments to the world at large.
I believe that education happens best in community, and my pedagogy includes opportunities for community-building (e.g., group work and instructor-student meetings) throughout the semester, which also entails one-to-one support for marginalized students
I believe teaching writing and rhetoric—lessons, assignments, examples—should be attuned to students’ professional and personal interests, literacies, and goals, which should be accounted for in fun yet practical exercises and projects for students to draw upon and develop their extant knowledge.
I believe that, using the interrogative affordances of rhetorical analysis, students should think ethically about the documents they produce—even the seemingly mundane and innocuous—as well as the social and political implications of their work.
These values shimmer in the daily moments of my course through what Chela Sandoval calls the hermeneutics of love, a method of mobilizing experiential and embodied theories of the world for a compassionate, anti-racist pedagogy. I underpin this move practically in the early groundwork of my courses, wherein I foreground key concepts of linguistic justice to help students understand that writing is a process with expectations often shaped by ableism and racism. I spotlight these inequitable values and explain to students that their expectations of the class (i.e., a primer on grammar, syntax, and essay writing) will likely be different to what my courses are (i.e., refining research skills, multimodal making, developing rhetorical acumen, and improving genre awareness). At the practical level, my pedagogy follows a weekly, scaffolded model of interrelated activities that allows students to practice composing for various rhetorical situations and their assigned projects. These activities, often done in groups to foster collaboration and community, operate with students engaging in popular culture media important to them (i.e., music, television, movies) so they can work through concepts of audience, genre, and rhetoric in fun and applicable ways.
In my first-year writing class, for example, students examine the rhetorical and composing practices of professionals in their disciplines or careers, preparing a rhetorical toolkit (i.e., skills in memo writing, genre adaptability, and ethos-building exercises) for their other courses and future workplaces. This and other projects are informed by my technical and professional writing pedagogy, with which I foreground a close attention to ethics, accessibility, and design. These concerns especially factor into the remix project I assign, through which students recreate a prior project through different media with close attention paid to disability, audience needs, copyright, and accessible design (i.e., captions, text size, color, utility). Students have produced incredibly creative and smart short films, board games, podcasts, and flower arrangements, showcasing their rhetorical savvy in various ways. This attunement to my students’ cultural affinities also underpins the research-intensive project sequence I use to structure my courses, with each assignment being capacious enough for students’ interests, majors, and careers.
Beyond projects, I assign readings and examples of rhetoric out in the world to spotlight perspectives from Black, Indigenous, and writer/rhetors of color (many of whom are also queer or disabled), In this centering, students with such identities—and those who do not share identive similarities—can see writing and rhetorical praxis done beyond racist, cisheteropatriarchal standards. As a former non-traditional student, I know firsthand how such moves can be vital to the success of marginalized students. As such, I attend to student success along my own experiences in higher education, and I draw from my positionalities to meet students where they are in their lives. I work with students to help them outline what academic practices work best for them, which often takes the form of: 1) a labor-based grading contract informed by anti-racist pedagogy, which emphasizes development and not grades; 2) class-created assessment rubrics so students get the developmental assistance they specifically request; and 3) ongoing reflection through writing and group discussions so that students further develop their own learning and goals. My nearly ten years of writing center consultancy work with primarily Mexican American, ESL, and international undergraduate and graduate students and faculty also inform the developmental feedback I give to students on their projects, activities, and other writings.
Through these moves, I center generosity in my teaching, and I offer students flexible and negotiated deadlines, workloads, project details, and revision options depending on their needs, which helps students to practice advocating for themselves and, perhaps more importantly, their peers. For example, through a compassionate pedagogical practice, I have worked with students to reconfigure assignments to meet their needs, which has taken the form of learning narratives being written for scholarship applications to offset unmet financial need, remix projects being reconfigured to be the launch of a social justice-focused podcast, and a disciplinary literacies project involving a résumé for an internship—a “once-in-a-lifetime chance” as I was told. Overall, I focus more on training students to think as rhetors and writers who are rhetorically attuned to audience and the rhetorical situation of their works rather than solely offering correctives to their work, which is a move too often stacked against marginalized students. In the courses that I have taught thus far, I have also mentored and assisted multiple queer and/or students of color to apply to graduate and professional schools, writing several letters of recommendation and helping these students plan their careers despite the marginalizing forces keeping them down. Frankly put, I know I am on the right path as an educator when every queer student and student of color has maintained regular communication with me for support, and I plan to continue this work.
Finally, I work from a maxim shared by Dr. Trixie Smith, director of the Writing Center at Michigan State University: “We’re all humans working with other humans.” I take these words to heart and often share them with students, telling them we’re all learning together—indeed, I have learned much from my students—and that we’re likely doing our best to understand the complex and continuous process that is writing.