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My teaching philosophy is illustrated in diagrams that show my development from a novice ESL teacher with a BA in English and Creative Writing,

to my present position as a university graduate instructor in applied linguistics:

The diagram is intentionally comical, but it is also the product of many difficult experiences that made me not only a better teacher but a mature adult. I still teach what I like—but now I also like teaching as much as the content I teach. I finally “get” that teaching is about service: finding out why your students are invested in the course (and if they were forced to take the course, how to make it pleasurable and educational so that investment is cultivated) and reconcile their wants with the course aims. Therefore, my teaching observes the following three principles.


1. Community-building. I do everything I can to ensure everyone is comfortable working with everyone else, and that every student has a group of friends to look forward to coming to class. This is accomplished through creating structured reading-and-discussion groups to help people make sense of the weekly material by discussing it together. People must also do brief (i.e., 300-word) weekly write-ups to report on their group members’ thoughts and their own, which encourages engagement with others’ ideas. Each individual student does write-ups in a google doc that only he/she/they and I have access to, allowing me to give individualized feedback and get to know everyone personally, while monitoring everyone’s learning. During class itself, I shuffle groups regularly and have many student-centered activities—such as “prediction puzzles” to guess the findings of empirical studies and Jeopardy! games to review for exams—that get students simultaneously thinking about the material and building rapport with each other.

2. Organized and interesting lectures. I am a sociolinguist with a general (upper-level undergraduate or Masters level) knowledge of the three other main schools of applied linguistics—generative, cognitive-interactionist, and emergentist.


This knowledge was gained by being in a top-tier program in applied linguistics, at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where PhD students must take graduate coursework in each area. The test for me as a teacher is synthesizing this information in PowerPoints and handouts that make concepts accessible and engaging. For example, to explain the cutting-edge theory of emergentism or usage-based linguistics, which does not often appear in most undergraduate courses on second language learning, I use fun, relatable examples for students to understand the new theory that language acquisition is not about learning grammar principles after all, but proceeds through a bottom-up tallying of linguistic exemplars.

3. Academic discourse socialization combined with critical pedagogy. I began my career as an English for Academic Purposes teacher, and in every course I teach, I also teach writing and research skills integrated with the course content. In an MEd TESL course, students told me that they appreciated how I provided explicit instruction in how to write the literature review, methods, findings and discussion sections of the final paper and prepared them to do so using activities that built upon each other. I also showed how scholarship is produced, disseminated, and legitimized, and how practicing teachers can enter academic conversations. My students in that course—all veteran K-12 teachers or adult ESL teachers in language institutes and trade schools—told me that what I taught them should have been in their program orientation!


In my undergraduate courses, I use a three-part teaching cycle: listening-to-read (previewing material using accessible language, relating it to everyday experiences, and unblocking cultural references), reading-to-speak (making worksheets to help students take notes they can refer to in group and class discussions), and listening-/speaking-to-write (getting peer and teacher feedback on how one is processing the material in preparation for papers and exams). I relate applied linguistics course content to social issues like heritage language loss, accent discrimination, and workplace intercultural communication, which my students experience. I share with them scholarship on how languages are revitalized, how bi/multilinguals cannot be compared to monolinguals, and how people communicate across cultures in diverse workplaces. 


In sum, my teaching aims to reconcile student investment with learning outcomes. At semester’s end, many of my students say they will miss coming to class, and have learned useful things.

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