We Do Not Teach Alone

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I am happy to share that my essay, “The State of Scholarship on Teaching Literature,” recently appeared in one of my favorite journals, Pedagogy. In this post, I want to reiterate a couple points from it that I think apply to teaching across disciplines. (I also want to make available the study’s data, at the bottom of the post.)

My essay assesses the state of scholarship in teaching literature by analyzing how scholarly works on teaching literature cite (or, just as often, do not cite) other scholarly works on teaching literature. The premise is that we do not teach alone. Or, at least, we do not teach well alone. We teach best when we bring with us into the classroom not only our own understanding and practice of teaching but also the voices, insights, perspectives, experiences, theories, and findings of our peers, especially those other teachers in our discipline who have thought the most deeply about teaching, whom we may have conversed with in the hallway or in the pages of disciplinary teaching journals.

In my essay, I note that literary studies—like many other disciplines in this respect—lacks what Holly Hassel calls “the rich, robust knowledge base we need to deploy the most effective pedagogies.” But I urge that “the needs of our teaching and the example of writing studies”—like few other disciplines in this respect—”may encourage and inspire us to move forward.” Most directly, I am calling for scholars of disciplines to also become scholars of teaching their disciplines. In that sense, it is a familiar call. But even short of producing pedagogical scholarship, I am urging professors at least to read pedagogical scholarship.

Elsewhere in the essay, I write about how citations create connections among scholars. The larger point applies also, I think, to the conversations we need to create among teachers, of which pedagogical scholarship may be but one of the most rigorous examples:

Through citations, among other means, scholarly writers connect their work to a larger “web” and thereby contribute to “a community search for truth and meaning” ([James E. Porter] 43). Citations make this process overt by showing what conversations, debates, larger projects, accumulating bodies of knowledge, and intellectual communities scholars mean to build on and contribute to. Moreover, citations not only point to these but rather also call them into being. Through citations, individual works connect to others, enacting Kenneth Burke’s (1941: 110-11) famous metaphor of scholarship as an ongoing discussion in a parlor room: “You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.” This listening, tenor-catching, and oar-putting take place in and through citations. Without citations, we are all just sitting in our own rooms talking to ourselves. Citations do not just point to larger conversations. They create them.

Again, the direct point in this passage is that we cannot write scholarship alone; our citations show that we are in conversation with other scholars. What I want to add now is that although we may not cite all of our pedagogical influences while we are teaching, we nonetheless ought to teach in ways that bear visible or invisible traces of our connections to larger pedagogical “webs.” We ought to teach as part of larger conversations.

One more passage:

Whatever directions the scholarship on teaching literature takes in the future, if we move forward in conversation with one another, we will build a fuller, richer body of scholarship to draw on in our teaching.

Fellow teachers, of all disciplines, let us move forward.

__________________________________________________________________

If you are here for the study’s data, you can download here the Bibliography and Metabibliography of recent scholarship on teaching literature analyzed in the essay—which compile, respectively, all articles on teaching literature published in four major journals over a the past decade and all lists of references or works cited appearing in those articles.

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