In an English class early on in my academic career, my teacher began reading my creative writing assignment out loud to the class. After she read the first paragraph she called me up to read the rest and I remember being so out of breath in my nervousness that I was out of breath at the end of every sentence. After I got back to my desk, red-faced and sweaty, my peers were then invited to read and share their own work, and what I remember most about that day was a feeling of camaraderie and connection to my peers that I hadn’t before felt in a classroom. Sharing your work whether in front of the class or in a workshop, is something that has become invaluable to me as a writer and something I bring to my classes, creative or academic.
Something I always struggled with in the classroom as a student was speaking up more. As I got into upper level courses, I soon realized that if I did not speak the first or second day of class then I would have much more trouble speaking at all the entire semester. There is something to be said about speaking to a group of strangers for the first time, clearing the air, and carving out an important space for your voice to exist in the classroom straight away, no matter what that voice is saying. Once you’ve spoken, you’ve made a place for yourself to exist in the conversation, and in composition where I am at the helm guiding my students into a new understanding of communication and finding their own voice, I want them to feel comfortable speaking.
As an instructor, nothing has made me happier in the classroom than when my students are talking and connecting with each other whether it is about class assignments or getting to know each other by bonding over their college experiences. As I deal mostly with freshmen who are entering university for the first time, I want them to feel a sense of community in the classroom, even if those community-building conversations sometimes drift off into other topics during our class discussions. I believe that establishing this line of open communication early-on in a freshman classroom, especially composition, reduces a lot of anxiety right off the bat that my students may be harboring. Not only does this calm their fears, but I find the more my students talk to each other, the more they are willing to speak up in class, challenge each other, and ask questions regarding the material.
To facilitate this comfort and confidence, I like to incorporate a lot of group work and workshops into my lessons that give the space for my students to speak on a more personal level. I find that group work and sharing in workshops not only helps to give my students voices in a lower-pressure situation but also works to bring them together as a small community of writers. While my students work in groups, I also enjoy the opportunity it allows me to walk around and speak to their specific questions, giving pointed mini-lectures that are in direct response to their needs.
I feel that creating a classroom environment that feels like cooperative of writers and thinkers by asking them to work in groups and share their writing with each other is the best way to facilitate unwavering voices that the world needs. Teaching has been an incredible challenge for me and has helped me to grow both academically and creatively by pushing me to face some fears and share my experiences with students. It is important work, not only when thinking about communication, but in helping students to assemble their own unique voices. Even if my students are sweaty and red-faced as I was when they first begin sharing their work with me and with others, the value of entering into that community and learning from their peers is an idea that I want to play a role in each of my classrooms.