Teaching


At the age of 23, I landed my first teaching job in El Paso, Texas at Henderson Middle School located less than a mile from the Mexican border. At such a young age, I harbored an idealistic view of teaching and of being a teacher. I thought I was going to shape my students lives to be better people, introduce them to new ways of writing and perceiving writing, encourage them to engage the world they live in through literacy, and most of all, I thought I was going to change the world. These ideals have influenced my ideas on language, writing instruction, and the new direction in my curriculum.

I stayed on at Henderson Middle School for about 10 years, and in that time, I grew to love teaching. I found my niche. At Henderson I taught a population of students who came from some of the toughest parts of town, the barrios and the projects, such as the Sherman Projects. I also taught many students who came from across the border in Mexico. In my first years teaching, I struggled to balance lessons for ESL students and native speakers, which only strengthened my teaching.


Speaking the Lingo: Building Bridges Eliminating Barriers


In the first weeks of each school year, I never let on to the students that I potentially knew more Spanish than they did. I saved that moment for the first parent teacher night. Students would bring their parents to visit me, thinking I would not be able to communicate to them how their child was behaving in class, or that they were not doing their homework. A majority of parents whose children attended Henderson did not speak English, and I deeply respected those who came to meet their teachers, knowing that the language barrier would limit their communication.

The moment I greeted the parents, “Hola Señora Villalba, comó esta? Qué gusto en saludarte y conocerte,” the student’s face would fall and turn pale. I would commence chatting with the parents, thanking them for coming, asking them about their lives, and then reporting on their child’s progress in class. The next morning, I truly had a sense that the students saw me differently, that they no longer saw my white skin, but the projection of my soul. They accepted me, and realized that I understood their struggles living on the border. To make them comfortable in my class after this experience, I called the girls mija, and the boys, mijo, terms of endearment in Spanish meaning son or daughter.

In my teaching experiences on the border, I learned that language creates a strong bridge between people. Accepting people for who they are and how they speak makes a huge difference in people's lives. This scenario played out several more times out when I transferred to Lincoln Middle School and then to El Paso High School.


Writing Lessons for Grades 7 - 12


In the twelve years I taught in the public school districts, I developed lessons that would grab the student’s attention, yet at the same time, connect them with the required writing skills. One of the lessons I created and adopted was influenced by Tom Romano’s Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multi-Genre Research Papers, which worked with students from grades 7 – college level. Instead of the straight forward, traditional research paper, I adopted a multi-genre approach to writing the research paper. The multi-genre research paper challenges students beyond the standard research paper because it asks students to make their argument through the use of various genres. It asks them to sustain an argument throughout the various genres. Each entry of the report is separate from the other in that they do not follow the traditional linear essay, but they create a complex, multi layered, multivoiced blend of genres, each revealing information about [a] topic, each self-contained making a point of its own." (4).

My twelfth grade dual credit students from El Paso High completed multigenre research papers with great success. I have yet to use this form in my college classrooms, but would be open to teaching the multigenre text at an institution of higher education. In Revisionary Rhetoric, Feminist Pedagogy, and Multigenre Texts, Julie Jung, a composition scholar, also advocates this innovative approach within the college level writing course.


Teaching Writing at the College Level


Coming into the Rhetoric and Writing Studies program as an assistant instructor, I carried a partial current traditional view of writing. I was attached to standardized test thinking, yet I also understood that writing goes beyond grammatical correctness, and that it is not done in isolation. Through my doctoral composition courses, I began to approach the teaching of writing much differently. I now introduce students in my undergraduate writing courses to articles that encourage them to think about discourse and how it shapes, and continues to shape, their realities.

One of the most important ideas to impress upon college freshman about writing is that it carries a body of knowledge, and that serious research is conducted in the discipline of Rhetoric and Writing Studies. I assign students to read and respond to articles such as Janet Emig’s “The Origins of Rhetoric: A Developmental View,” James Berlin’s “The Nineteenth Century Background,” Keith Walters’s “Whose Culture? Whose Literacy?,” and Ira Shore’s “What is Critical Literacy,” and others. From these readings, I shape writing lessons and discussions that encourage students to reflect on their current views of writing and how it influences the world around them.

Each semester, I try to incorporate new multimedia 2.0 tools. The MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning released a report titled Living and Learning from New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project that shows the complexity of the digital shift in literacy, and also, emphasizes the importance of teachers using new technologies in their curriculum. For my classes, I am constantly researching and learning about new digital networking tools to enhance my classes.

For several classes, I have encouraged students to start blogs. I was very surprised that so few of my students had blogs, or even knew what they were. Once my students all signed up for a blog, they were a bit unsure of what topics to include in their blogs. I encouraged them to reflect on ideas of rhetoric we discussed in the course. (To view some of my student’s blogs that also contain their multi-media projects, please click any link under “student blogs” to the right). These are some of my innovative ideas for the composition classroom, but my interests also extend into cultural rhetorics, the core of my research.


Theories of Border Rhetorics – A New Course in Writing


Based on the research into mestiza rhetoric for my dissertation, I propose an undergraduate and graduate level course, Theories of Border Rhetorics. This course would examine theories on border thinking and mestizaje through writings of Walter Mignolo, Gloria Anzaldúa, John Francis Burke, Victor Villanueva, Damían Baca and others. In this course, students would study how our culture and discourse is enmeshed with many others, and how this true confluence of cultures does not match many people’s view of America. Much of my thinking for the course Theories of Border Rhetorics comes from Damián Baca’s chapter “Thinking and Teaching Across Borders” in his new book Mestiz@ Scripts, Digital Migrations, and the Territories of Writing. He proposes a new direction in the teaching of writing, which dispels the cultural myth that only the Greeks and Romans practiced the art of writing and persuasion.

Currently, the history of and theories of rhetoric are still embedded in a Western perspective, ignoring the writings during Middle Ages and Renaissance periods from Latin America and Africa. Baca states that Western writing programs are instead embedded in a historical web of transatlantic imperialism and colonial trade. Conventional composition texts that cover early U.S. history could be paired with Latin American and African philosopher Lewis Gordon’s Her Majesty’s Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age to better understand how race, racism, and identity emerge from colonialism (139). Whether the course is a freshman undergraduate course, or a graduate level course covering rhetorical theories, the introduction of these sources that question the cultural myths of writing as centered in the Greek and Roman civilizations will generate energetic discussion, and will direct classroom attention to pre-Contact histories of the Americas as well as Africa (Baca 138).

In teaching the course Theories of Border Rhetorics, or any undergraduate writing course, I bring the same intentions, some unabashedly idealistic, of why I started teaching fifteen years ago: to help my students understand the world in which they live, introduce them to new ways of writing and perceiving writing, encourage them to engage the world they live in through their own literacies, and most of all, to change the world.

Student Blogs

Pictures

(Click to enlarge)

Henderson Middle School
Henderson Middle School

Cristina with students on a hike to Aguirre Springs
Me with students on a hike to Aguirre Springs

Lincoln Middle School
Lincoln Middle School

El Paso High School
El Paso High School

Writing class
Writing class

Teaching at the non-profit organization AVANCE
Teaching at the non-profit organization AVANCE

Engaging student in writing
Engaging student in writing

James Berlin said that history needs to DO something, to be relevant to our present time.  Here, students are engaging and connecting to history.
James Berlin said that history needs to DO something, to be relevant to our present time. Here, students are engaging and connecting to history.