What can I say of my role as a teacher? My job as I see it is to function as much as I can as an invisible bureaucracy of the classroom with negotiation between students, teacher, and class content central to the success of the course, as is practical skill-building. I try to minimize my presence as a teacher, exercising my powers of authority minimally. In concrete terms, I take role, begin and end class, provoke discussion, and do my absolute best to engender in the student a desire to read on their own terms. I mean something very specific when I use this term, read: to read is not simply to pass one’s eyes over words, reciting them orally or in one’s head, not only to “get” what the author says, but to project one’s experience and subjectivity into the fabric of the text—to translate, and hence to maintain a negotiation with the text or object of inquiry before them.
Grades reflect the level of attention a student pays to her task. Principles, not rubrics, are in my mind the best way to gauge a student’s performance. Principles establish a flexible, but strong set of rules for the evaluation of students. Wholistic grading like this, although not always appropriate for every subject, is ideal for the humanities, because principles maintain a space where negotiation remains open when strict, numbered categories would cripple these relations. Perhaps, for instance, a student is pathologically shy, appearing to be deficient in participation, while their written work shows thoughtfulness and creativity. Principled grading allows for me to negotiate between my specific parameters, generating a more appropriate grade for the student that does not reflect an over-emphasis on traditional participation.
The course I teach at Virginia Tech is called “The Creative Process: The Arts and the Humanities,” and its structure helps explain my emphasis on negotiation. My class cycles through four units, each with a research component, and a production component. These two halves hold my emphases of skill building and negotiation in tension. Students read scholarship on the ethics of creativity and capitalism, specific examples of literature such as short stories and fairy tales, as well as scholarship about these genres’ meaning and importance. Following an intense barrage of readings related to the specific project (fairy tales, short stories, ethics, and visual art in the case of this course), students produce their own example, an artifact of their creative process.
What I hope this reflects is an instructor committed to research and principles skill building.