Teaching Philosophy and Mission Statement

Teaching Philosophy of Matthew Q. Evertson

The ideal classroom is a place where we all learn together–student, teacher, and those we impact when we take our discoveries outside the classroom. As the classroom leader, I try to foster this environment with a focus on project-based learning, when appropriate, allowing students to engage their own ideas and texts—and those expressed by others—critically and creatively, through active dialogue and skillful questioning. We set up and contribute to blog sites, create webpages and multimedia content, perform presentations, help define and build our reading lists for class, create our own “journal” based upon interdisciplinary examples in the field Examples of such approaches and assignments are outlined on my professional blog site: https://outsideyourself.wordpress.com

In recent years I have emphasized, when appropriate, an Inquiry-Guided-Learning (IGL) approach to my classrooms, where the end goal is not just acquisition of specific content or information, but rather the exercise of critical inquiry and creative problem solving that encourages students to stretch their individual thinking processes, often in collaborative and/or interdisciplinary engagement of a specific project, issue or theme. Our campus has worked to craft a shared definition of such practices:

Inquiry promotes the acquisition of new knowledge, abilities, and attitudes through students’ increasingly independent investigation of questions, problems, and issues that require complex solutions using appropriate academic standards of evidence.

(Lee, 2004 – amended by Faculty Learning Community at the 2015 ESP Summer Institute)

Such an approach recognizes in our digital age that information is incredibly easy to access, but that the critical thinking guiding the use of such knowledge must be fostered by tapping the curiosity of the individual learners, and by “decentering” or “problematizing” their relationship to such information as they strive for solutions and responses to complex issues for which there is often no single answer. Many of our Essential Studies courses, such as First Year Inquiry (FYI) and Capstone, emphasize this open-ended approach.

In classes where writing is the main focus, such as First Year Composition, the primary elements we must offer students are diverse and authentic opportunities to write, immediate audiences to write for, and understanding of the structures and forms of effective communication. In this way, the teacher’s expertise is secondary to the experiences of the students as they study the fundamental processes of narration, argumentation and persuasion that involve the writer, the writer’s purpose, and the appeals the writer needs to make to potential readers. The teacher’s role in such a classroom is to help foster the habit of close attention to texts and analysis of structure, in general, and to guide the students to specific instances in their own writing of both successes and failures in their rhetorical situations. From an IGL perspective, students are encouraged to find authentic writing situations based upon compelling issues and ideas from their own studies and life experiences. We emphasize revision and writing workshop/peer-review as part of this inquiry-guided approach where writers learn they are not trying to arrive at one single “correct” way to write, but that the entire class works to resolve issues and solve the problems hindering effective communication in each specific writing situation. This process is enhanced by consistent assessment of writing with the “Value” Rubric for Written Communication, developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which focuses on how well the students adapt to the context/purpose, content development, genre and disciplinary conventions, use of evidence and, of finally, syntax and mechanics expected in any rhetorical situation.

In literature and humanities classes, my job is to help students, first and foremost, to practice the art of analysis–to make claims and arguments about the texts they are reading and the concepts they are studying and to support those claims with specific examples and evidence from those texts and from their own reading experiences. Here, the IGL approach has been very useful as well. For example, I have replaced traditional reading quizzes with the use of “challenge questions” that students write as they read, and attempt to answer, and then use to help structure their discussions in class. This encourages students to take risks and not to worry, at first, if their answers are “correct” by the standards of the current literary trends or theory, but that they illustrate the process of close reading and analysis. As students move forward in each individual class–or progress into more advanced course levels–they are pressed to be more aware of the current trends and claims being made by experts in the field, as well by other readers in the community that surrounds any important text.

In both writing and reading, I press my students to ultimately question what these experiences reveal about themselves as humans and their place in the universe. I try very hard to make each class relevant and timely to my students’ lives and interests, and they are encouraged to bridge the assignments in my class with other coursework, professional tasks, campus experiences and elements of their individual lives. By connecting such writing assignments to the real concerns of the students and the current issues, events and controversies of our communities, their writing assignments move from artificial tasks to genuine rhetorical situations that appeal to their own intellectual interests. Increasingly, these courses culminate in collective projects that the class members originate and develop—multimedia presentations, posters, online “journals” and blogs—often integrated across the disciplines, and, when appropriate, addressing regional themes and issues that are relevant to the students’ interests and concerns.

The overarching lesson that I have learned in teaching a wide variety of students in many different settings is to adapt to the specific needs of my students in each class period and in each course and to be prepared to adjust these philosophies and approaches to the specific circumstances that emerge. As my student evaluations over the years illustrate, I have been able to engage students in a variety of ways—to challenge, yet reward them, with hard work and rigor, and still earn their respect and high marks. More importantly, I have been able to learn each semester from these students and to adapt and update my approaches for the most effective learning environment that I can provide, year in and year out, in my own growth as both a student and a teacher across these disciplines.

Personal Mission Statement for Matthew Evertson

I strive to make my vocation my avocation, to seek intelligent work that makes a meaningful difference in the communities I serve, and to incorporate reading, writing and a love of learning into my daily routine—in both my personal and professional life.

I serve higher education and, in particular, the humanities and the traditions of the liberal arts. I hope to both promote and protect the college campus as a learning community that preserves the best traditions of academic life, but which responds to the technology, trends and teaching that continue to emerge in our digital and internet era. I serve my profession—and thus society—by fostering creativity and critical inquiry, and contributing to a respectful dialogue that engages the great thinkers of the past and the emerging ideas of the present to grapple with the eternal question of our place in this universe. One of our most pressing missions in this exploration is to effect change and to use the tools of thinking and creativity to counter the violence to our planet and to each other.

We must encourage each season of students to seek their truths, to make positive, thoughtful and ethical choices, and to share in the exhilaration of discovering new ideas and insights that contribute to—and challenge—their views of the world, laying the foundation for a lifetime of enthusiastic learning.