Dear Selection Committee Members,
I wish to apply for this position because of my strong interest in teaching. I recently graduated with my M.A. in English from the University of South Dakota. While there, I had the opportunity to teach Composition (English 101) in the Fall. Additionally, I have taken a Practicum class during which I developed documents such as lesson plans and examined pedagogical theories. I believe this experience provided me with invaluable training the prepares me well for any teaching environment. In the Spring semester, I decided that I wanted to expand my understanding of teaching theories, and did this through an elective course in the Education Psychology department. This course examines ideas such the cognitive basis for teaching strategies. Through this course in particular, I've developed a passion for understanding the science of learning and exploring questions related to the field of teaching.
In particular, I've found during my time as a graduate student that I enjoy working with student individually. Working as a peer tutor as an undergraduate, I was able to see how this individual attention can help a student discover his/her own voice and gain confidence. As a graduate teaching assistant, I found some of the most rewarding aspects of teaching were the moments when I would meet with a student during a conference and the student expressed excitement about a particular writing topic or when, during a conference, I was able to help a student who struggled with a particular concept.
I also have several academic interests that help to enhance my teaching. I have a strong interest in creative work which I think informs how I approach teaching writing in the classroom. As a graduate student, I was a member of the Graduate Poetry Workshop which strengthened my ability to give effective feedback on others' writing. Additionally, during my time as a graduate student, I have worked on two different creative writing publications, The South Dakota Review (as a poetry reader) and Atrophil Press (as poetry editor). This experience has been helpful to me professionally in that I have gained skills in meeting deadlines and working as a team member. In addition, it sharpened my eye as an editor and helped me become a more effective writing critic.
I have developed several critical interests, as well, and I believe the diversity of these interests strengthens my ability to present material in the classroom or work with students individually. For my M.A. oral defense, I presented two critical seminar papers to my committee, composed of three faculty members. One paper examines the poetry of two African-American poets, Saphire and Harriet Mullen, and the other examines the impact of Theodore Dreiser's novel Sister Carrie on American Literature. Through working with my committee members, I gained experience relating verbally my written ideas in a clear and insightful way. I believe I gained invaluable experience from the process of revising and presenting these two papers that translates well to classroom teaching and working with students to become independant thinkers in the humanities.
The development of community within our profession is very important to me, and I have had several opportunities to engage in this type of service. For example, I attended the AWP conference last Spring with the South Dakota Review staff and helped with promoting the publication at the book fair. Often what we do as scholars or writers is a solitary endeavor, but this experience, in particular, opened my eyes to how transformational community is in what we do. I am also a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honors organization, through which I have participated in activities such as planning campus activities such as poetry contests and volunteering with publicity events. These activities have shown me how central the idea of community is to any work environment which is an idea that I will bring with me to my future endeavors.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: University of Wyoming - Bachelors, English
Graduate Degree: University of South Dakota - Masters, English
ACT Composite: 31
ACT English: 34
ACT Reading: 35
Reading (novels, poetry), creative writing, outdoor adventures/the environment, running, Nordic skiing, psychology and cognitive science
College Application Essays
College Level American Literature
Elementary School Reading
Elementary School Writing
High School English
High School Level American Literature
High School Writing
Introduction to Poetry
Middle School Reading
Middle School Reading Comprehension
Middle School Writing
Study Skills and Organization
What is your teaching philosophy?
Many students who take English 101 are not English majors and many are nervous about their writing abilities. Working with students on their writing takes place in a variety of ways. Classroom instruction is the most obvious of contexts for this, but the interaction and feedback that takes place through individual writing conferences and through comments on papers are inseparable from this philosophy as well. This process-oriented approach greatly informs how I work with students through the revision process. Through comments I write on papers and through discussions during conferences, I focus on how students can strengthen the paper through expanding ideas that the student already has. In commenting, I provide "big-picture" comments related to content, rather than only focusing on sentence-level errors. Often, these conferences offer key insight into the student's thinking process and what they might be struggling with specifically. Asking questions is important because it promotes intellectual engagement. Many students take composition because it is a required course, but my goal is ultimately for them to become more motivated learners. Another aspect of my teaching philosophy is the incorporation of material that is interesting to the students. None of the students that I taught in composition were English majors, so I learned to be creative in thinking of how to integrate outside material in into the course. For example, when discussing research topics such as finding credible sources for research and supporting arguments with evidence, I explain this process through a comparison to the scientific method with which many of the students, especially science majors, were likely more familiar. During the media analysis unit, I showed the TV show Mad Men as a way to try and engage students with how one can critique culture through film. Important questions related to this show involved themes such as the idea of commodification or the portrayal of women. Another activity during this unit involved analyzing the ads in magazines. Analyzing these types of media is a way of engaging with the process of critically questioning the messages we are presented with on a daily basis.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Mostly getting a sense of the student's background in the subject or potential concerns about the skills needed. This will help in determining what to focus on in help sessions. For example, perhaps the student needs to work more on skills such as organization in writing, developing a thesis statement, using topic sentences, or developing a wider vocabulary to draw upon in writing or to help with test taking (in the case of ACT or GRE Verbal tests).
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Ideally students will become curious, independent, creative thinkers in their field. This is a really important goal, and I think that, in our education system today, it is often overlooked. In the humanities in particular, we want students to be able to come up with topics that interest them and then go forth and research these topics. Ways we can help them do this include big-picture comments in papers such as, "Can you think of examples that will help to support your thesis?" Additionally, we can help by giving students the skills they need, such as how to effectively use the databases or how to use MLA style correctly.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
Motivation is a complicated topic that would require more detail than a short response. Basically, there are a few things we can do as tutors to help with this. We can comment on what a student does well. Personally, I know that a continuing source of motivation for me are the times I was told I've done something well. I know this makes me feel as if I want to keep doing whatever it was I did well or to improve so that I become even better. So I'd say positive comments can help, even if it's just to keep someone from feeling too discouraged. Another thing, that I learned from cognitive psychology, is to help a student focus on short term goals and to visualize success. Let's say a student is stressed about having to do lots of work in very little time. Focusing on what needs to be done moment to moment can help keep the student focused and taking positive steps.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
As a teacher, one often has to be patient. Oftentimes, we are teaching a subject that we ourselves have done well with. Students, however, may be dealing with a subject that is not their favorite or that doesn't come naturally. Sometimes, extra practice is what helps. Other times, relating the concept to something else that the student does understand is helpful.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
I'd ask the student to try to translate the difficult passage into more simple English. For example, if the student is reading Shakespeare or Chaucer and is having trouble with a passage, trying to translate this into one's own words can be helpful. Also, this can make the task seem less intimidating.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
I've found that clarity is often appreciated. Particularly when tutoring a student individually, I've found that explaining a concept in simple, understandable language is greatly appreciated. Sometimes the student has the skills to complete the task but just did not understand the directions that were given.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
This, I'll admit, can be a challenge, since we as teachers are obviously passionate about our subject matter and, therefore, expect others to be as well. Yet, trying to engage students is part of our job, and over the course of our teaching careers, we should never stop improving. Ways to try and engage students include trying to make the subject relevant to them. For example asking questions like: how can this passage about pop culture help you to understand current events?
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
I'd ask students to verbalize the material in their own words. An important part of tutoring is listening. We have to hold back from talking too much at times. A good way to see if one has learned material is to try to teach that material to someone else. So this is where listening comes in, giving the student the chance to talk.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
Confidence plays an important role in success. Often, we build confidence in our skills from past success, so offering positive feedback helps build confidence.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
Trying to identify what skills the student is struggling with within the first session. Then focusing more on these skills in subsequent meetings.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
This is, I think, what is good about individual tutoring and makes it easier to address what a particular student is struggling with. Everyone thinks differently and has a different way of cognitively processing material. The benefit of individual sessions is the opportunity to use strategies that focus on what works best.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
Generally, since I tutor in English and writing, the materials are either a student's writing or a passage of literature. I use comments on the student's writing.