Stephanie holds an MFA in creative nonfiction (2015) from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL. She is currently an instructor at FAU teaching composition, literary interpretation, professional writing, creative writing, and other writing courses.
I like to express my teaching philosophy as “Classes that matter, writing that connects.” The phrase “classes that matter” has layered meanings, the first being that I strive to build relevant courses with texts that address key concerns for students. I tend to select readings on race, gender, class, and social justice representing the widest possible variety of writers, with the intent of bridging the gap between the student’s individual experience and that of other people. These readings provide the basis for writing assignments that, in turn, link students with the wider society. I also strive to discover each student’s personal stake or goal in the course—another component of my “classes that matter” philosophy. For some students, the course develops career skills, and this utilitarian purpose matters most to them. For others, the course invites them think and write about issues they hesitated to before; for these students, the course inspires personal as well as academic growth. Openly discussing how the class matters beyond just fulfilling graduation requirements—in office hours, midterm conferences, or in the classroom—inspires a deeper sense of commitment to the work it demands. My goal is to make my classes feel important to every student in a personal way.
“Writing that connects” is a similarly multi-layered concept. In most expository writing courses, students practice drawing connections between texts, and between their arguments and those texts, by crafting essays that connects with the reader in a persuasive, clear, evidence-driven way. For creative writers, connection means developing themes in their work. Connection is not “what the text means to me” or “how the text is relatable,” although I encourage students to make those kind of personal connections in freewrites and class discussions. Instead, I ask them to consider how the text connects to some aspect of the human experience and express that via their argument. Doing this involves critical thinking and assessing sources for authenticity, skills I work to develop in my students. “Writing that connects,” then, means helping students produce essays and creative work of wider significance, with ideas that extend beyond themselves and our classroom.
In the end, my love of writing is what makes me an exceptional teacher; it is the foundation of who I am and how I relate to others. When I teach, I do not see myself as simply providing students with rhetorical skills as a means to achieve their chosen end; rather, I am conveying the essence of what it means to be human, at least in my mind: communicating one’s innermost thoughts, reaching someone else’s soul with words, expanding one’s mind through the task of composing. I am not naïve enough to believe a writing course will be such a transformative experience for every student—but I strive to make it so for as many as I can. That moment when a student embraces a writing assignment because it makes them feel alive: that is why I teach.