This is the personal story I wanted to include in my statement of teaching philosophy, the first time I wrote one. I didn’t; it was too cheesy. You can see the document I eventually developed by clicking on the link under “teaching” at the top of this page. But I’d like this mini-memoir of a personal meta-philosophy to be out in the world somewhere, so here it is.
As I entered the academic job market for the first time, the teaching philosophy seemed like the most daunting of the many documents I knew I would have to prepare. I fell hopelessly in love with teaching the first time I stood at the front of a classroom, in the DeCal class I created as an undergraduate exchange student at Berkeley in 2002. It was terrifying and exhilarating and felt like just where I needed to be. But a philosophy?
In my DeCal I taught C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, attempting to share the convergence of love and critique that I felt on returning to a childhood favorite as a politically conscious young adult horrified by Lewis’s representations of gender, race, and colonialism. My class in fact sparked a minor Berkeley tradition, as taking it gave two students the idea to begin BookWorlds, a group that has coordinated student-run classes on fantasy and science fiction ever since. Checking in on the BookWorlds classes over the years, I’ve occasionally been disturbed at how much more celebratory than my initial idea they are. But this also made me realize that my early effort, though it might not have encouraged the kinds of critiques I’d have liked it to, succeeded in what teaching does at its best. It set something in motion that the students could carry forward on their own terms, individually or collectively, transforming concepts and materials in directions a teacher could never predict.
Students who encounter me as a mature scholar and teacher are less likely to escape the critical cultural analysis of gender, sexuality, race, and capitalism that motivates my pedagogy. But their transformations remain their own. And it is that idea of transformation, I realized when I finally sat down to create the dreaded document, that links my research and teaching practice––and, in fact, my approach to many other aspects of life, art, and culture as well.