As a literary scholar, my training in understanding the motivations of characters, the significance of imagery, and the vitality of audiences underpins my empathic worldview. As I pursued English in my undergrad and continued to graduate school, this training further developed, and I began to see the virtues of employing empathy as a form of critical thinking. My approach to both teaching and research is informed by the inherent relationship between empathy and positionality. I believe our lived experiences inform our worldview, and by acknowledging other lived experiences, we gain insight into the motivations of others and begin to think more critically about the world in which we live.
I grew up in a middle-class, suburban family where a university education was expected. I was raised to believe that education was both a privilege and a necessity for success. Because I had the privilege of a liberal education, I could pursue my interests and passions without concern about financial success in my undergrad. I also realize that this is not the norm, and I am grateful that I have been able to turn my experience learning about my interests into a career. However, the tension between privilege and necessity underscores many of my beliefs, not just about education but about the university as an institution. The university has its roots in the relationship between those who have knowledge and those who seek it out. The student-teacher dynamic is foundational, yet not everyone has the privilege of participating in that relationship or even the opportunity to experience the idea of education outside of their need to support themselves financially. In other words, while I have the privilege to believe that the university is a space for learning and experimentation, less privileged individuals see the university as a means to a better life and financial security.
As an instructor in an English department where most of my students are not English majors, I am in the position to provide support for a variety of students who see their English class as simply a required component of their degree. My class, then, is a means to their end. As an instructor, I embrace this dynamic and use my expertise in literature to foster in them a more empathic, critical worldview. Effective communication becomes a core skill that we practice to take that skill into their other courses and careers. While my course material is literary, I draw on their lived experiences and other forms of knowledge to teach lessons. My analogies in class can range from the history of mathematics to current political events. My students comment on the diverse ways in which I engage them to explain the importance of effective communication and say how helpful it is. Yet, these interdisciplinary approaches are informed by their interests.
By including my students’ experiences in the course content, I encourage discussions of positionality. My approach to literary instruction centres on the intersection between empathy and positionality. Each student in my class approaches the course material through their own lived experiences, and it is vital to cultivate an inclusive space for each student to express their unique voice. Fostering the diversity of the classroom encourages open-mindedness and the creation of new knowledge based on shared commonalities and, more excitingly, on exposing our differences. While we may all read the same text, our interpretations will differ. Acknowledging these differences allows us to dispossess ourselves of our preconceived notions of the outside world and those who live in it. By fostering an empathic environment, I believe we can more critically engage with the world around us. Informed by the diversity of the students in my classroom, I provide learning materials that cater to a wide array of interests from all periods and genres. I select non-canonical texts in my classroom to allow students to experience works of literature they might not have otherwise ever accessed.
I have sought mentors and supervisors who provided alternative views to my own. Likewise, I seek opportunities to mentor students, especially international and EAL students who otherwise do not have access to the resources for success in my English dominant university. By opening up my office hours, especially for tutoring, spending more time providing targeted feedback on assignments, and advocating on their behalf, I focus energy on ensuring their success both in my classroom and in the university as a whole.
My experience as a new instructor at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic clarified the importance of equitable instruction. In one of my classes in 2020, I had students living in Asia, Africa, and locally in Saskatoon. I saw the importance of providing accommodations for my students on a case-by-case basis. Strict guidelines and implied expectations were not only untenable, but they were often exclusionary. The other familial and social roles that were otherwise unacknowledged pre-pandemic became evident as students became primary caregivers, financial supporters, and otherwise preoccupied with other responsibilities. To accommodate for this new reality, I actively encouraged my students to take advantage of institutional support provided through the university and took extra care to alleviate concerns about deadlines. I empathized with students whose first experience of an English university classroom was behind a computer screen. My mentor guided my belief that instructors should teach the student and not the syllabus, and I have taken this as a golden rule in my classroom. To this end, I understand that students may need further guidance and clarification about course requirements, expectations, and extensions on deadlines. I tell my students throughout each term that life always comes before school. I have had students tell me that this is helpful as I have had students experience trauma outside of the classroom.
As a scholar, I have my anxieties about the purpose of what I do. I see my research as only one half of my role as an instructor and educator. I take the concept of teacher-scholar seriously in my research. One of my primary goals is to produce scholarship that informs the classroom and apply what I learn to my research. My interest in textual editing, for example, stems from my desire to provide rare or untaught literary sources to students. Likewise, I actively develop pedagogical tools like TEI by Example by sitting on the international advisory committee. I see my research as a means to an end: to enable young scholars and students to enact change for a better world through more empathic and critical thinking.
Admittedly, my approach to equity, diversity, and inclusivity is constantly in flux. I see myself as a perpetual student and draw on the experience of my peers to inform my approach to more equitable, diverse, and inclusive instruction. Just as I am willing to mentor, I seek out mentors who can provide insight into better pedagogy.