Let us go then, you and I. . . .
T. S. Eliot
from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
It was not the first time I wondered at the waste of human ability, as a botanist wonders at the thousand seeds that die, the unused provision of every sort. The reserve force of society grows more and more amazing to one’s thought.
Sarah Orne Jewett
from The Country of the Pointed Firs
These two quotes shape my teaching philosophy.
I see myself, first and foremost, as a guide. In literature courses, I walk with students “down streets that lead . . . to some overwhelming question.” I work with students to find the hidden question, the one that opens vistas into how we understand crucial issues surrounding what it means to be an individual within a community. We grapple with race, class, gender, the environment, nonhuman animals, as well as the power at work therein. We also trace the continuity and rupture across the evolution of American literature.
In writing courses, I guide students toward making decisions based upon theory rather than upon prescriptions. I establish the tension between Proteus and Procrustes, and I want students to organize their writing not based upon a Procrustean template, but rather based upon the form that their ideas seek to become.
Toward what end?
At its best, education ought to awaken the “reserve force” within each student. I seek to locate the seeds within students and then bring them to fruition. Practically, this work gets down through clearly communicating the student learning outcomes. Through posting objectives on my syllabus and on the white board before each class, I begin to realize this work. When I give feedback to students, I make sure that my comments align with our learning objectives. I also use rubrics with categories that continue echoing the learning objectives. Ideally, the learning objectives articulate some of the “seeds” that otherwise—to echo Jewett further—would be “wasted.” By communicating the objectives clearly, everyone in the classroom understands the work that is before us.
When I plan a course, I use the trope of a “sonnet” to guide my decisions. I want a solid structure in the form of a stable schedule outlining course units, assignments, and objectives. Within this structure, though, we have space to be creative and spontaneous. I often begin each class with an “opener” that is chosen prior to each class. These openers are one way that my teaching adapts to the needs of students within the overarching structure of the course.
I am passionate about pushing against, in a practical way, the failure of imagination. So much poor writing as well as a poor understanding of animals, for instance, stems from such a failure. At every turn, I seek tropes that can direct our imagination to see the work that can be accomplished through reading and writing.
Courses Taught at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame
- ENLT 455: Emily Dickinson
- ENLT 385: Critical Theory
- ENLT 376: American Literature 1865-1945
- ENLT 377: American Literature Since 1945
- ENLT 352: 20th Century American Literature: Language and Consciousness
- ENLT 351: 19th Century American Literature: Ecotones
- ENLT 253: Native American Literature
- ENLT 251: African American Literature
- ENLT 212: Ecopoetics & the Age of the Anthropocene
- ENLT 211: Animals in Literature and Society
- ENLT 109w: Introduction to Literature and Writing | “The Work of Literature”
- ENVS 101: Sustainable Living, team-taught with several faculty from Environmental Studies
Courses Taught at Washington State University
- American Literature 1865 to 1940 (English 481)
- Ecological Issues & American Nature Writing (English 472)
- Technical and Professional Writing (English 402)
- American Novel to 1900 (English 368)
- Writing and Research, Honors (English 298)
- Introductory Writing (English 101)
All this work by Aaron Moe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at http://aaronmoe.com.