I’m Barbara Clauer and I began at LCC in January 2001 as an adjunct, teaching literature and writing courses and, with graduate and other work, have now been teaching for over twenty years. As I try to focus, out of all those years, on what to share about myself that would be pertinent to the creation of this project and the content of this website, I’m beginning to realize that this Poetry Project has not actually “taken over my life” as if it’s something new as I’ve recently described it to colleagues and friends, but instead is a direct outgrowth of my teaching philosophy and everything I value about learning. This realization led me to review my teaching philosophy as prepared and shared during the process of being hired to a full-time position at LCC in 2012 (see below). I read the words with a feeling of incredulity, relief and joy because this Poetry Project – and admittedly it has taken over my life 🙂 – is not “new” to me but the culmination of decades, now, of a classroom and really a world view of mine that working collaboratively, being open to new ideas, lifting up each others’ voices, and really listening to what emerges is the core of my teaching and learning.
That realization of a continuation and deepening of my teaching philosophy in my work creating the LCC Community-Generated Poetry Project, vs. an anxious focus on making sure this was a “new” thing also helps me understand my complicated feelings of recognition and relief, I think, when at the 2018 Imagining America Conference in Chicago, participants all chose and opened a random fortune cookie and mine said simply: “nothing is completely new”. I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I had been holding. That phrase, to me in that moment and, as always by that point, with the Poetry Project not far from my mind, meant that the collaborative, re-mix nature of the process that I had begun to develop, is its own kind of new, and certainly worked to lead students/participants to new ways of thinking about complex concepts.
The fact that I titled the artwork of mine that opens my Teaching Philosophy “Breathe”, and included one of my own poems to illustrate the way I understand my thoughts about teaching also made this document, written in 2012, read like I could have written it today specifically about the Poetry Project. Realizing that my obsession isn’t a departure, but instead is a complex and fulfilling continuation of my teaching, is like taking that first deep breath after unknowingly holding it: relief and rejuvenation.
My teaching philosophy
I am a teacher because the energy of discovery, learning, seeking and ultimately making significant connections is vital. I cherish the continual loop that teaching can be: student-teacher-student-teacher. I was a student to become a teacher and I continue to put myself in the position of student and learner in order to expand upon my teaching.
The way I teach and engage in my academic activities reflects my belief that every individual is more capable than they know. Students, in particular, often arrive in a classroom with the belief that they are empty vessels and that their instructors are tasked with filling them up with knowledge. I believe that my role, in addition to sharing specialized knowledge, is to shine a light on the knowledge to which they already have access from their own experiences. My role is less as knowledge-imparter than dot connector. The most fruitful moments in the classroom are when we arrive together at a new idea from several perspectives and directions. I use my knowledge and experience to help make connections to the ideas and perspectives students often don’t have the confidence to recognize within themselves.
My personal definition of a great teacher is one who is an explorer. A great teacher goes on an adventure/journey/exploration with the students. A great teacher cultivates her own sense of wonder and curiosity which in turn makes it safe for students to feel the potential vulnerability inherent in wonder and curiosity. A great teacher knows they still have so much to learn. A great teacher respects her own role as a teacher but also works toward erasing some of the hierarchy inherent in student-teacher dynamics. A great teacher challenges students to question and continue the exploration.
I’ve had amazing teachers throughout my lifelong career as a student – from grade school to my undergraduate years at Alma College, throughout my time in business as well as in graduate school, and currently in my fellow teachers and colleagues. I believe that learning is continuous but that it must be both sought and engaged in actively, and that we need to reflect upon what we learn so as to connect new ideas to those that came before. The depth and breadth of what we all still have to learn could be overwhelming unless one views the act of learning as an adventure rather than as a checklist to be ticked off.
In my classroom, whether face-to-face or online, learning looks collaborative in the sense that, when things are clicking, students are building on the ideas we address and discuss and then they are working toward new and surprising connections. Beyond the specific learning outcomes I expect for my students, I also help them learn how to think critically, to ask questions, and to explore their own ideas as well asthe ideas of others in order to make surprising connections.
The change and growth I hope to see in students, when we come to the end of a course, is that they are surprised by how much they knew before we worked together, and by how many more connections they see and seek between what we discussed and learned in class and their lives in the world outside the classroom. I help students learn and grow by expecting more from them than they expect from themselves, by supporting them when they begin to explore the ideas in class more deeply, by honoring their explorations, and by exploring with them. […]
Below is a poem I wrote and read for the “Poet’s Corner” portion of the January 2012 English Department Kick-off meeting. It brings together thoughts I have at the beginning of every semester about the connection, creativity and surprise that is teaching.
Every semester brings us
around the circle again: newness and familiarity.
The reassuring surprise of
new buds springing from old oak.
Or, like the night sky each new season
with its own reassuring surprise:
the Big Dipper holds water in autumn
and quenches our thirst in summer.
In that night sky others
have mapped out constellations
but the filament connections are as
elastic as language and transparent as memory.
We arrive each semester under that sky carrying
the weight of seasoned knowledge:
Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, the Pleiades.
We also arrive lifted by creativity’s weightlessness
which brings its own reassuring surprise.
Barbara McCarty Clauer