Teaching was my original draw into academia: when the light finally came on for me about how to distinguish good writing from bad and the anxiety I had felt about writing subsequently evaporated, I wanted to share that knowledge with others, helping them escape their own reservations about writing. That shift started me down my current path.
I began as a peer mentor in Brigham Young University's Writing Fellows program working under Beth Hedengren, and I got my first taste of actual classroom teaching as a master's student at Ohio University in 2007. Though I was pursuing a degree in creative writing (I had never yet heard of "rhetoric and composition"), I quickly fell in love with teaching first-year writing while many of my peers vocally dreamed of the day they would only have to teach upper-division, genre-specific creative writing courses. After graduating, I spent two and a half years as a full-time adjunct first at BYU–Idaho and then at Texas Tech University. Since the 4/4+ load didn't dim my passion for teaching writing, I resolved to seek a doctorate in writing studies, to make my passion the focus of my scholarship instead of a side venture.
My first gig in writing studies: a writing fellow. I'm the serious-looking guy next to the luchador.
In 2012, I began working toward a doctorate degree at TTU in Technical Communication and Rhetoric with an emphasis in Rhetoric, Composition, and Technology. At the time, TTU's writing program under Susan Lang took an unconventional approach by having "classroom instructors" teach a weekly section of each course while a team of "document instructors" collectively graded and gave feedback on student work through an online interface. This distribution of labor required close collaboration among a team of 5–7 instructors, giving me essential though small-scale experience with teacher preparation and writing program administration. Because the program generated a huge mass of organized, mineable data about both the students and instructors, I was able to also engage in data-driven assessment as part of my graduate coursework and program service.
At the same time, I taught my first fully online courses for BYU–Idaho, and I spent a year working as a tutor in TTU's Writing Center, which specializes in both online tutoring and working with EFL students. All of these things broadened my experience and led me to my dissertation topic of online writing instruction (OWI) preparation for graduate teaching assistants (GTAs). When I finished my coursework, I returned to BYU–Idaho to adjunct while I completed my exams and dissertation; during this time I also taught a fully online Introduction to Technical Writing course for TTU.
I completed my degree in May 2017, and Fall 2019 marks the beginning of my thirteenth year teaching writing in a university setting. My passion for the work remains strong, and I continue to refine my practice every semester.
You can download a PDF of my teaching philosophy or read it below.
My experience outlined above has informed my teaching philosophy, which I present under the following four topics: increasing agency, ensuring access, encouraging transfer, and reflecting on my practice.
The core of my teaching is that I am always endeavoring to increase my students’ agency, that is, their power to choose, to act, and to affect the world around them. Because many students enter my classroom as passive consumers of education and somewhat resentful at having to take a required writing course, I strive to help them feel in charge of their own learning and growth as writers. Among my practices for achieving this are the following:
I endeavor to accommodate myself to the learner rather than force the learner to accommodate my style or interests. I recognize that my own path toward learning how to write effectively isn’t the only path, that my struggles as a student aren’t the only struggles students have, and that my learning style doesn’t necessarily match my students’. Thus, my teaching is variable; I adapt it to the needs of my learners each semester. Some of the ways I promote access include the following:
A final way I ensure access is by making sure all my websites and course materials are fully accessible to anyone regardless of differences in vision, hearing, mobility, or other factors. Read more about my involvement in accessible web design.
Slack allows my students a place to express themselves without the pressure of a real-time, face-to-face interaction. We can also continue class discussion, chase down tangents, and commiserate — in the moment — over our workloads.
I always encourage my students to keep their eye on the larger picture. My assignments and teaching are never focused on showing students how to succeed in my own class or how to write a paper I’ll respond favorable to; instead, my instruction, assignments, and assessments focus on helping students develop an ability to see their work as a reader would see it in a real-world context. In this way, I hope to help them develop an ability to identify the principles of effective writing that would apply in any situation and thus leave my class with useful skills rather than basic procedural knowledge of a few genres. To that end:
This last topic concerns how I continue improve as a teacher. Donald Schön studied how professionals, as opposed to amateurs, reflect on their actions both during and after they occur, comparing those actions to their mental model or theory of how their work is best performed. This reflection leads to small changes to actions either as they occur or in their next iteration, and it can also cause a professional to revise his or her theories, further refining them and ultimately leading to better performance. As a teacher, I think of myself as a professional of this type, and I consistently reflect on what I do to discover ways of improving my work. Some of this reflection is informal, but much of it happens as I keep a teaching journal, as I discuss my decisions openly with my students during and after a semester, and as I perform careful assessments to gather data with which to more objectively evaluate my progress.
One of the ways I reflect on and improve my practice is by considering the data available to me, which often takes the form of student comments — either sent to me in an email, written in a reflection paper, or included in a course evaluation — and numerical data — drawn from course evaluations, my gradebook, or assessments I've designed. In the following sections I've compiled some of that data to provide a picture of how effective my teaching is from the perspective of my students.
On a recent last day of class, a student took pictures of her peers holding up a sign describing what their favorite part of class was. Here are a few responses.
The thing I like most about the following excerpts from student reflections and emails is that they show students drawing their own conclusions. Very few of the points made are merely parroting something from class or a reading; these students are reflecting on their experiences and theorizing about what it might mean. These students are exercising their agency, not only in this but in how they take responsibility for their present and future learning. Additionally, several talk about how important the learning community was to them, which is one way I strive to increase access, and others mention how their learning is transferring to their life outside of class.
Of course, not all reflections are as glowing as these — please don't get the idea that I'm always successful. Still, I would call the tenor of these responses typical of what I generally receive. (Students' words have been lightly edited for clarity.)
All of my life I heard my peers speak of teachers that really influenced their school year, their semester, their life, etc. So many of my friends fondly talk about experiences with teachers in elementary, middle school, and high school. I was never one of these kids. I can't even remember the names of my current professors here at BYU–I, much less those that taught me in the past. I can't recall much of what any teacher in particular taught me, or in what classes or school years I learned certain things. I never had a teacher who really stuck out to me.
I wanted to email you because I do think it’s rather important to let people know that they are special and that what they do matter, that who they are is impacting others. You changed a lot for me. I felt the very manner in which I think about things change in the few short weeks of Spring semester. I never had a teacher who genuinely cared about our learning and not just the grade we received from doing an assignment. Your class has made me a better student all around, which wasn't something I could really measure until now. I'm not really sure how to put into words what you did for my academic toolbox and real-life toolbox (if that's a thing...I think it should be), but I think it's enough to say that I remember your name and that class fondly, I talk to peers about your class and teaching style when registration rolls around, and I can now say I have had a teacher who really positively improved some part of my life.
My favorite part of this class, in particular, was the community I felt within it. One student, Eduardo, and I got along right from the beginning and we began an open communication about different papers and assignments. His motivation to learn and grow has inspired me to be more proactive when seeking for help on a particular assignment. He did this by reaching out to me specifically for questions and misunderstandings. At first, I wondered, “why is he asking me about this? When did I become an authority on writing?” Now I realize it had little to do with my knowledge and more to do with the relationship that we had cultivated in and out of class. I hope that I can carry that torch to other classes and be better about knowing my classmates and professors to the point where I am comfortable enough to ask questions that might seem insignificant or stupid to me.
Eduardo was an international student from Chile.
I also have thinking about how cool it was to have a “no-judgment zone” in class, and how everyone felt it was for reals. I learned a lot more because of that. Normally it is hard for me to speak in public because I might make mistakes if I get nervous. Like in a project presentation in another class I said “sucsex” instead of “success” and everyone laughed. I wasn’t afraid of anyone in our class mocking me, even though I know that many times it was difficult for them to understand what I was trying to say. I think I can try to carry that culture to other classes. Helping each other and making more friends. Maybe inviting people over for breakfast at the beginning of every semester.
One thing that has particularly changed is the way I think. I was pretty bitter about this class at the beginning of the semester, but I grew to see what was really going on…. It was especially as we were finishing paper 2 that I realized that this class was changing my perspective of the world. I was more skeptic when people told me something had happened. Last week, too. I was talking to my brother on the phone, and he started ranting to me about some opinion he had. I asked him some questions that I had heard in this class that really got him to think deeper about the situation. I asked him, “How do you know that is true? Have you heard the story from both sides?” And other thought provoking questions. It was weird. I felt like such a nerd.
I have never seen the value in rhetoric before. I have subconsciously assumed that people have their own opinions and I’m not going to change their minds, so why try? Generally, when I declare an opinion of mine, it is to find out who is on my side rather than to attempt to get anyone to switch sides. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions, but in the past I have extended that to mean, “who am I to try to change their minds?” Moving forward, I will pay more attention to what I care about, then actually exert effort to do the research necessary to form my own solid opinnion on the issue. That way, I can feel like I actually have something say, like I can actually do someone a service by converting them to my point of view. I will need to be able to do this if I am going to win over and then keep clients as an architect. I’ll need to know how to convince my teenage kids to stay on the right path. Rhetoric is a necessary skill to the survival of civilization as we know it, and fewer and fewer people are mastering it. Too many think like I did, in terms of agreeing to disagree before even attempting to convert each other. No wonder the world is so messed up. We all live in bubbles. I’m going to pop some bubbles.
This semester has been an incredible learning experience and rereading my pre-semester reflection showed me that very clearly. At the beginning of the semester I was plagued by fear of a bad grade. I would street about it so much my eye would twitch incessantly, then in the middle of one of my classes my dad called to check on me and I remember venting for a good 15 minutes about how stressed I was. Up to that point I had been faithfully committed to my original semester project, but when he told me I needed to find an outlet for my stress my semester project changed.
I started working out at least 4 times a week and the fear and twitching just kind of vanished. I started to feel comfortable taking risks and took a big one by procrastinating my first paper to try a new writing process. I continued to take risks, especially in this class, and they started to pay off. I developed a new strength to add to my academic toolbox — creativity. Which I also consider to be very similar to critical thinking. I started to think outside the box with my assignments and projects and I did things differently than my professors had originally asked and they turned out great! I asked my art professor if I could do final in arbitrary color, and my communications professor if I could deliver a presentation without speaking but by drawing pictures….
I never would have had these ideas of the guts to do them without losing the fear of a bad grade and gaining a creative, critical thinking mind. My priorities have even changed! I’ve begun to value the integrity of my work over the quality and quantity. I want what I put out in the world to represent me and the message I’m trying to communicate, and I want it to be real and honest. That means relaxing, going for a run, focusing on my family, and then giving my full attention to whatever I’m doing. My strengths — reading, observing, and class discussions — are still strengths. But what I called weaknesses — fear of a bad grade, focusing, and group projects — are no longer weaknesses. Relaxing helps me focus on one thing at a time and not being afraid of a bad grade helps me be more accepting of other people’s ideas.
I enjoyed hearing different opinions from my peers. The discussion we had made me question some of my own beliefs, not in a negative way but just made me examine why I believed the way I did. We had an extra credit project that turned into a really good discussion of various issues like equal rights for LGBTQ persons, what methods are most effective for overcoming addiction, and if the way those issues were being addressed was actually touching the heart of the problem. I think continuing to learn this way by reaching out and discussing things with my classmates and teachers will help me learn the material much better in the future, as there will not only be retention from the discussion, but there will also be a lot of information backing the topic that will be easier to recall and integrate in my life than just memorizing facts and arguments.
I loved how I was never graded on how if I was correct in the assignment, but my thinking behind it. I loved how I was given the freedom to choose to do the assignment. Although I abused that power a couple times, by not turning in a couple assignments, when I did complete an assignment, I felt I did it because I wanted to and not because I was told. Being graded on my willingness to do the assignment instead of what was actually produced challenged me and allowed me to feel accomplished in my work when I know I tried my best.
Before this class, I never really thought of myself as a critical thinker. As I have gone through this class, I found myself thinking outside the box. I would like to further define the “box” as any of my previous opinions that were based off my parents’ opinions. I realized I relied on my parents’ opinions and not my own. Although I still have an opinion about things almost exactly the same as my parents, it is now because I have made that decision and not because it was what I was raised with.
This class also brought to light the biggest weakness I never realized I had. I was way too biased and very unwilling to look at the world around me. I reread the public-school argument probably 8–10 times before I sat there and listened to anything the author said — I couldn’t get over her obvious left leaning, but only because I was upset it wasn’t leaning more to the right. I for so long sat in a bubble when it came to my media consumption and this class challenged that. The second paper really did it for me, it was talking about two of the biggest conflicts I face in my life: gay rights and freedom of religious. My best friend is a homosexual male who left the church, and I’m a kid that has a really hard time staying in the church sometimes despite my love and testimony for it. I really had to look at this paper differently, even though it was a synthesis reading that much something that is so conflicting to me was hard. I really had to listen to all sides and find ways to let the arguments co-exist for encouraging and strong realization of the world.
Above I mentioned that I was a coward and that might be a strong word for it, but I realized that I am way too unsure of myself all the time. I was constantly scared to work in a group on any of the projects because I was scared I would look stupid and I couldn’t help them the way they were helping me. I was really wrong…. People like Cassie and Alyssa really wanted, maybe even needed, my help. But people like Bryan were also willing to help me. I think that this taught me that all people have something to offer each other. I still don’t’ think I’m the most confident in my work, but I think that I’m okay with that weakness as long as I can pair it with the ability to collaborate with others.
I pulled the numerical data from my course evaluations from the last three school years and crunched the numbers to see how I've been doing according to an anonymously completed, school-created and -deployed assessment. The results are highly encouraging.
I averaged my scores from three years of data (8 semesters, 16 sections, 151 respondents) and found that I scored higher than the university-wide average in all relevant areas of the course evaluation instrument.
|My Average||University Average|
|Overall Instructor Rating||6.23||5.90|
|Composite Instructor Rating||6.32||5.97|
|Overall Course Rating||5.70||5.44|
|Composite Course Rating||6.06||5.74|
Use the buttons below to access more information about my methods and detailed results.
Each semester, BYU–Idaho invites all students in all sections to complete an online questionnaire about each class they’re enrolled in. I’ve never offered extra credit or any other incentive to fill these evaluations out.
I pulled data from the last 3 school years, from Fall 2015 to Winter 2018. Because BYU–Idaho has three full semesters a year (rather than a shorter summer term), this means I have data from eight semesters, or 16 sections. I actually taught 18 sections during this time, but two sections have such low response rates that, in order to preserve the anonymity of respondents, the school opts not to share the data.
The instrument has been identical for all these semesters, and the school provides the university-wide average score for each question. I drew from four relevant sections (other sections had to do with the respondent’s performance):
"Composite instructor rating" and "Composite course rating" represent combined scores from 11 and 9 questions, respectively.
For each semester, I combined the data from each section into a semester average, weighting each individual student response the same rather than merely averaging the section totals, which would have skewed the results. I did the same with the overall totals.
The enrollment cap on these courses was always 25, though the total number of enrolled students by the end of the semester was often lower. The lowest completion rate was 25%; the highest was 77%. In total, 151 students of 349 completed the questionnaires for an overall response rate of 43%.
As Table 1 above shows, when the results of 8 semesters are averaged together, I scored higher than the university average in all reported areas of the course evaluation instrument, doing so by an average of .31 points. The school does not provide additional statistical information about the reported campus-wide average, such as the standard deviation, so it's impossible to say how statistically significant this difference is, but the consistency with which I've achieved high marks does seem to indicate a high level of success meeting my teaching goals and fulfilling student expectations.
Looking more closely, as shown in Tables 2–5, my average score in each area for each semester exceeded the university’s in 24 of 32 cases. Interestingly, seven of the eight times when I scored lower than the average happened in semesters with only one section of data to draw on (Winter 2016 and Winter 2017), and therefore the lowest total number of responses (9 and 6, respectively; the average number of responses each semester was 19). It appears that, in these cases, one or two students’ responses pulled the overall average down significantly.
These somewhat skewed semesters should not be discounted, however. In fact, I deem these instances an invitation to closely consider the written feedback students gave (which is not tied to the numerical data, so I could only guess which comments corresponded to which data points) to discover more about why someone was dissatisfied with the course. If you’re a teacher, you know that these comments are often the most instructive and helpful in planning future courses.
For Winter 2016, the only negative comment simply said "More structure." For Winter 2017, however, I received a long comment with constructive criticism; I used this comment in planning subsequent courses, detailed below:
On the workload:
We had too many assignments due at the same times or while we were supposed to be working on other assignments. The workload was easy at times, and at other times, we would get overloaded with work. The workload could have been spread out and more consistent.
This was true in that I often have students doing ongoing assignments that last a week or more — such as Discovering New Reading Skills or Jump into the Public Discourse — while also completing quicker daily ones. At times the due dates can all fall together, making it feel as though the work has piled up, especially if a student procrastinates starting a longer assignment. In response to this feedback, I tried my best to even out the schedule where I could, and where I couldn't I added notes in the course schedule reminding students when they should start longer assignments. Additionally I began talking about the assignment pipeline in class more both to remind students of what due dates were coming up and also to invite more discussions of time management.
On the timing of learning and then applying concepts
There wasn't enough time given to learn the practical things that were required in assignments. We were generally trying to learn how to do things, like citations, at the same time that we were supposed to be completing assignments that required them. It would have been more productive to have a more even mix of the amount of learning of concepts and actual practical applications throughout the entire semester. It would have given adequate time to learn things like APA, Chicago, or MLA in time to use them.
This comment, as well as others spoken to me, made me realize something about my practice which was obvious to me but was not obvious to my students. When teaching new concepts or procedures, I tend to make multiple passes at them, each one helping students push their ability further. For example, when learning how to map out an argument's structure, we follow these steps: (1) students first do readings on the topic, (2) we practice mapping an argument together as a class, (3) students map a different argument on their own for homework, (4) students compare their maps to other students' in class and then we troubleshoot together, (5) students map a third argument on their own (this last becomes the topic of their first paper, a rhetorical analysis).
What was obvious to me is that I am not concerned with the students' success throughout that process; I'm only interested in that they try. In fact, I typically grade each assignment along the way as merely pass/fail, passing all that show a decent effort; only the final assignment in the sequence is graded for achievement. To me the logic is obvious: Why would I penalize a student for not being able to do a difficult new concept perfectly? Realizing that this wasn't clear to my students, I've changed the assignment descriptions to make clear what the grading criteria will be, and I've begun discussing this logic explicitly in class. As a result, many students have responded favorably to being free from the terror of a bad grade, and they progress more because they need not be afraid of failure along the way.
On not discussing every assigned reading
There was also too much reading that was assigned but never used. We would have articles assigned to read that we never discussed or used in assignments. We could have cut that reading in less than half and still learned/used it just as effectively.
As above, I think this comment reflects less a mistake in my practice and more a failure to communicate my intentions. Of course we don't discuss all the readings. For one, I regularly alter lesson plans on the fly to respond to my students' progress and what I perceive in class to be the most pressing concerns; often, this means dropping a theoretical discussion to spend more time putting concepts into practice. Two, not all readings are of the same importance. Some readings are foundational while others are more like witty asides or interesting counterpoints, meant to inspire deeper thought about a topic but not worth devoting precious classroom minutes to.
As in the other cases, I've tried to be more explicit with my students about my expectations for the reading ahead of time and my reasoning for dropping a discussion in the moment. Additionally, I've created an online space for us to discuss lost readings outside of class. I currently use Slack, and I create a channel specifically for this purpose, often posing questions about readings we didn't have time to discuss in class or follow-ups to what we did discuss to invite participation. My favorite aspect of this is that because all my sections share a single Slack workspace, the classroom discussions that happened at different times can meet there and expand. Of course it's not all success: getting students to participate without making it a graded requirement — which would largely defeat the purpose, in my opinion — is tricky.
Students were asked "What is your overall rating of this instructor?" and were given a 7-point answer scale:
Table 2 below details the average scores I received for the chosen semesters and compares them to the university average.
|Semester||My Average||University Average||# of Respondents|
Students were asked to respond to the following statements:
They were given a 7-point answer scale:
The results of these individual questions were then averaged into a single score. Table 3 below details the average scores I received for the chosen semesters and compares them to the university average.
|Semester||My Average||University Average||# of Respondents|
Students were asked "What is your overall rating of this course?" and were given a 7-point answer scale:
Table 4 below details the average scores I received for the chosen semesters and compares them to the university average.
|Semester||My Average||University Average||# of Respondents|
Students were asked to respond to the following statements:
They were given a 7-point answer scale:
The results of these individual questions were then averaged into a single score. Table 5 below details the average scores I received for the chosen semesters and compares them to the university average.
|Semester||My Average||University Average||# of Respondents|
In twelve years of teaching, I've taught upwards of 75 sections of writing-intensive courses. I've taught at public and private universities; at research- and teaching-focused schools; in onsite, online, and hybrid modalities; using Blackboard, Moodle, Brightspace, Desire2Learn, a hand-built website, and Canvas; at a Hispanic-Serving Institution and a religiously affiliated school, and to students of all conceivable backgrounds.
Here is a snapshot of my experience:
Assistant Professor, 2019–present
Adjunct: 2009–2010, 2015–present
Online Adjunct: 2010–2014
Full-time Lecturer: 2010–2011
Graduate Part-time Instructor: 2012–2014
Online Adjunct: 2015–2017
Graduate Teaching Assistant: 2007–2009
You can download a PDF of my diversity statement or read it below.
As a scholar and teacher, I value diversity and am committed to inclusion and accessibility for all students regardless of age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, physical or cognitive ability, economic status, or other category. The following are ways I work to include all my students and promote an egalitarian environment.
On the first day, I inform students our class is built on the “Potluck Model” of education (tipping my hat to Paulo Freire, of course). This metaphor of a potluck dinner makes students aware that we will produce knowledge primarily through social construction — that is, by sharing our opinions and observations freely. I explicitly validate students’ ideas when they share — drawing special attention to those instances when someone says something I’ve never heard in over a decade of teaching — and we voluntarily commit to preserving a no-judgment zone not only by refusing to judge others for their ideas or identities but also by assuming that others might merely be trying on an idea or identity to discover how it sounds or fits. Our potluck thus becomes a space where all are welcome to participate regardless of race, sex, gender, politics, academic prowess, or other characteristics.
Furthermore, I employ an online discussion space outside of the classroom because doing so gives those who are shy or who desire more time to consider their responses an opportunity to participate on their own terms. I also utilize assorted classroom strategies to vary the conditions of participation; for example, a “Think, Pair, Share” activity lets students first engage solo, then in small groups or pairs, and then with the whole class. I find that my more introverted or reserved students benefit from such an approach.
I repeatedly examine the design of my courses to ensure they do not unintentionally discriminate. For example, when considering my attendance policy, or whether to allow late work and with what penalty (if any), or whether to allow students to revise their essays for a higher grade, I carefully weigh the learning objectives against the demands of real-world employment and the needs of individual students — and I try to value those considerations more highly than I do “tradition” or “the way I was taught.” The results are encouraging. For example, though I am often presented with letters of accommodation from students with physical and cognitive disabilities, I have rarely needed to make accommodations for the simple reason that my course design already has most types of accommodations built in.
I also ensure that my websites and course materials are fully accessible to anyone regardless of differences in vision, hearing, mobility, or other factors, and I make alterations when necessary, as when I taught a deaf student in a fully online class that met synchronously with audio and text, requiring a real-time transcriber and other modifications.
Because grading writing is a largely subjective exercise, I employ strategies to make my work as fair and consistent as I can. My primary method of grading these days is conference grading, wherein the student and I meet in person. During the meeting I read the student’s paper aloud, and we discuss our responses to the writing as we go. This makes grading a dialogue rather than a pronouncement, and I find that students are more invested in their work and interested in improving when they see that I am just as vulnerable to them and they are to me — and that I am open to multiple perspectives about a paper’s success. Additionally, this method ensures each student gets the same amount of my time, focus, and attention. For those who are uncomfortable meeting face to face, I offer online meetings, and I offer traditional written feedback when appropriate.
Another approach I use is that I give students leeway to bend writing assignments to serve their majors, career goals, or other interests, and I alter my grading criteria accordingly. For example, when students do a literature review, I grade an engineering major’s work differently than I grade a nursing major’s, helping each student see the conditions of success that their major invokes. Likewise, for my Current Event Coverage Report assignment, I allow international students to focus on the news media of their home country or region.
I myself have worked and studied oversees, thus becoming the linguistic and cultural “other,” and I have worked at places such as the Texas Tech University Writing Center, which specializes in tutoring EFL learners; therefore, I am aware of and sympathetic to international students and others who struggle to become proficient in “standard” English. When grading the work of non-native speakers, I am careful to make accommodations for their difficulties while simultaneously helping them identify paths to improving their mastery of the language. I am frank with students both about the myth of a “standard” English and about how that myth persists in the workplace and elsewhere.
My classroom tends to be a lively place where more than a few students regularly participate. More than that, my students tend to freely share personal beliefs and opinions because they know they won’t be judged for them, and this open sharing often allows our class discussions to be deeper and more fulfilling as a result.
I teach at Brigham Young University–Idaho, where more than 99% of the student body practices the same religion and conservatism is the political norm. Many of my students feel either that everyone is the same, or that they are the lone outsider and must maintain a low profile. But in my class, we celebrate difference, using it to fuel our growing understanding of critical thinking. As students grow more comfortable with each other and our potluck approach, they begin to reveal their own heterodox beliefs or practices, and I am consistently impressed at how welcoming they are of difference even within the same faith tradition. During the Current Event Coverage Report unit, students regularly volunteer information about their political views because they see that outing themselves as conservative or liberal is less risky than failing to examine their positions. And though they regularly express their frustration with the state of political dialogue nationally, they report that our classroom is an overwhelmingly constructive space to examine political and social ideas.
I also work for inclusion outside of the classroom. For example, BYU–I does not recognize or sanction a local group of LGBTQ students and their allies, so I have made my office a safe space for those students who cannot be out on campus, and my family has become friends with and advocates for several members, offering our support and mentorship. I have also worked with students and colleagues who are survivors of sexual harassment and assault.