Be Passionate, Share the Classroom, and Never Stop Learning

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” –Bill Nye the Science Guy

In a perfect world, I will be teaching Communication Studies courses at the college-level once I complete my PhD in 4.5 years. After 6 years of undergrad, I just finished my first semester of my MA to step closer to achieving that goal. One of the courses I took, Critical Pedagogy (taught by Dr. Karen Mitchell), asked us to be reflexive in how we share the classroom with our students and how we can best create a space for making visible issues of diversity, privilege, and oppression. My favorite assignment in this class was one where we were asked to write our Teaching Philosophy Statement. After struggling to get my ideas on paper, I realized that this document will never be finished. It will never be perfect because the ways I view the classroom will be shaped by the learning (my students’ and my own; in and out of the classroom) that takes place on a daily basis. Finally, I tried to capture my philosophy on teaching developed as of November 2013 through themes including “Be Passionate, Share the Classroom, and Never Stop Learning.”

Teachers that have most influenced me are contagiously passionate about the material they are teaching. In high school, I hated math. I tend to not have much patience for skills that do not come naturally to me, and statistics was no exception. However, Mrs. Miller loved it. She was good at it, and she enjoyed teaching it. While this didn’t make me like statistics, watching her explain something that she was passionate about gave me a reason to care. This influence resurfaced over and over again in college. The most notable instance of this was with Anna Schony. It would be so wrong of me to not mention how much she influenced my life path. After struggling to find purpose in my collegiate education, I enrolled in her Public Speaking and Interpersonal Communication courses during the same semester. She giggled as she went through the syllabi, and maintained a beautiful balance between being personal and professional during her classes and office hours. The content she taught was relevant and applicable, yet academic. This was the semester that helped me realize that I wanted to teach Communication Studies at the college level.

A few weeks ago, my classmates and I were asked to discuss our teaching philosophies. The passion that radiated from our uniquely constructed documents was unavoidably contagious. It was so special to learn how all 7 of us took a different approach to the assignment, but shared similar objectives. However, the conversation ended up taking a turn that I did not see coming: What happens when students and class activities don’t aid in achieving your course objectives? How do you save face and maintain a safe environment when a student disrespects you and/or their classmates? When do you give up on an activity that doesn’t seem to be working? Is it actually not working, or will it resonate with students after they’ve had time to sit with the material? Won’t it be scary to ask my students for feedback on what is going well and what could be improved in my classes? Will that undermine or add to my credibility as a professional? The answer to all of this seems to be “You’ll figure it out along the way.” There isn’t a handbook that outlines every single problem that could go wrong in your classroom and how to fix it. Through dialogue in my Critical Pedagogy course, I have become more comfortable with the idea of “trusting the process” (which is actually a miracle – there is no doubt that I am Type A).

Even though I have been a student for over 20 years, it’s true that I have no idea what I’m truly getting myself into. It’s also true that I will never stop being a student, and I will not be alone in my professional and academic endeavors. Academia has been, and I believe that it will continue to be, a dynamic place for collaboration and sharing ideas. Dialogue is imperative to broadening our understanding of the world around us, developing new ideas, and perfecting our methods. Most of all, it is important to engage in this dialogue with both our colleagues and our students. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up having a conversation with one of your students that meaningfully influences their life path.

What’s the Deal with Performance Pay?

by Nicole M. G. Brennan

Economics and organizational studies have found employees perform better in organizations rewarding performance pay.[1] The notion is workers will try harder in their profession because they will get a financial reward. After the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), education reformers discussed implementing performance pay in the K-12 school system. Congress also introduced the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) which offers school districts money to use performance pay measures. If performance pay works in the private sector, why not try it in schools? Well, there are a lot of reasons and I’ll give you a few.

First, schools are not businesses. I’ve heard countless times on radio and television that if only schools were run like a business, we’d see more student success. Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say I run a bakery. When I make my blueberry muffins, I choose the ingredients I’m going to use. I’ll select eggs, flour, and blueberries from local producers. After mixing my ingredients, I’ll put them into an oven that makes them the perfect golden brown. If during the process I notice the berries are moldy or the flour has bugs in it, I can throw the batch out and start over. If my oven breaks down, I’m in charge of getting it repaired or replacing it. As a teacher, I can’t throw out a class of students if they’re not high achieving or have behavioral problems. If the facility I’m working in is faulty, I can’t make swift repairs. Although it is a simplistic analogy, the fact remains schools cannot be run like a business because we don’t have agency over the product. If the schools I’ve worked in are any example, we also don’t have the resources at our disposal to ensure student needs are met before learning can take place.

Second, performance pay isn’t linked to good teaching. In the previously cited article, the authors found in higher education, performance pay increased the amount of time instructors spent researching, but not the success of their students or teaching practices. Additionally, incentives tied to performance have been linked to “teachers focusing excessively on a single test,” changing answers on tests, helping students cheat, and making low-performing students stay home when the test is administered.[2] In my research, I was unable to find any long-term study conducted in the United States (and in a peer reviewed journal) indicating increased student achievement as a result of performance incentives. Those conducted internationally found either modest positive effects or no change at all.[3]

Third, performance pay removes the egalitarian salary structure in K-12 education. K-12 teachers in public schools are paid based on a salary schedule which takes years of experience and education level into account. For each year of experience, teachers move up the pay scale. (Unless there is a pay freeze) As teachers continue their education, they can move over and are compensated. Here’s a brief example:

Years Teaching


B.S. + 15 credits


MA + 15 credits







This method places educators on an equal playing field. A district cannot discriminate against an educator for their race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. as they could prior to the implementation of the salary schedule.[4] If performance pay is implemented, teachers in areas assessed by standardized tests are at an advantage. Instead of an equal playing field, educators in valuable but untested subjects (art, music, physical education) are not rewarded at all – even if they are outstanding educators.

It’s a scary time to be a teacher. It’s easy to scapegoat us for failing schools and to portray our unions as greedy and problematic. If the people who teach were motivated by money, they wouldn’t be teaching. Performance pay is another example of trying to cure a symptom instead of the larger disease: an outdated and underfunded public school system. Do you want innovation in the classroom? Give teachers the feeling of safety and protection to use new learning tools instead of threatening us with decreased funding and firings.

[1] Eric R. Schulz and Denise Marie Tanguay. “Merit Pay in a Public Higher Education Institution: Questions of Impact and Attitudes”, Public Personnel Management 35, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 71-88.

[2] Michael Podgursky and Matthew G. Springer, “Credentials Versus Performance: Review of the Teacher Performance Pay Research”, Peabody Journal of Education 82, no. 4 (2007): 551-73.

[3] Matthew G. Springer and Catherine D. Gardner, “Teacher Pay for Performance: Context, Status, and Direction”, Kappan 91, no. 8 (May 2010): 8-15.

[4] Julie E. Koppich “Teacher Unions and New Forms of Teacher Compensation”, Kappan 91, no. 8 (May 2010): 22-26.

Teaching for Change

This week, Inside Higher Ed, Salon, and Slate reported the story of Shannon Gibney, an English professor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. While giving a lecture on institutional racism, a student interrupted her to ask why this topic continuously came up in class. Three students from the class then filed a discrimination complaint against Gibney. This situation provides an example to start a discussion about whether instructors should infuse social justice issues into their curriculum. I recently participated in a panel discussion at the National Communication Association titled “Social Justice in the Basic Course: Connecting Content and Citizenship.” In this entry, I will summarize our discussion and try to show the importance of teaching with change in mind in light of the potential consequences. At the top of the page, you will see a link titled “Teaching Resources” which will feature documents and articles which work towards prejudice reduction and community involvement.

Holly Gates, ABD

When determining what content should go into a course, Ms. Gates asks herself, “What are the things students should walk away with?” When answering this, she considers how to take this approach without overloading her students and making them feel shame. In order to do this, she builds trust through dialogue and personal examples. When students disclose things about themselves, she responds with a story to match their experiences. In class,  Ms. Gates uses these strategies to help students use rhetorical theories to better understand identity, audience, hegemony, and diversity. To help students talk through issues, she gives readings, lectures, and discussion to build the necessary vocabulary. Another approach she uses is to tie in current media and pop culture. The additional resources Ms. Gates uses can be found under the Teaching Resources link.

Dr. David Kahl

Dr. Kahl tries to integrate critical communication pedagogy into his classroom as much as possible. The speeches and assignments in his course focus on marginalization and hegemony. The process he uses is to work through conscientization. The steps are 1) Raising awareness 2) identifying avenues for praxis (actions for change) 3) Responding through praxis (taking action) Research topics students can use are homelessness, poverty, hunger, or lack of education. Students are encouraged to focus on issues in their own community.

Dr. Kate Ranieri

Dr. Ranieri encourages critical thinking and discussion through watching and making documentaries. She recommends Banished ( and Two Towns of Jasper ( to change student’s perspectives. Oftentimes students are afraid to talk because they do not want to hurt someone’s feelings so she has to push them by playing devil’s advocate.

Dr. Cindy Vincent

Dr. Vincent spent a summer doing research with an organization focusing on arts education by homeless and poor people for homeless and poor people. The approach completely altered her teaching philosophy and she approaches her courses in a way students don’t expect. She provides an environment where everyone is equal. Instead of teaching in front of the classroom, it is conducted in a circle. All of the examples for providing concepts to students use social justice issues. Additionally, she requires community involvement by having them complete service learning projects. During class discussions, Dr. Vincent teachings about resistance, stereotypes, marginalization and its benefits for privileged groups, and objectification in the media. She recommends students read “Los Viajes.” Another project she assigns is about citizens’ media; she has students create and enact their own media.

Julie Walker

Ms. Walker taught at a technical college where the student population is different than that of a four year university. Students at a technical college are often marginalized and have experienced the issues she addresses. Her lesson is adapted from one created by the Greater Mankato Diversity Council. Her approach is to infuse issues of social justice into a lesson about audience analysis. Students are then assigned a quiz to assess their learning. Ms. Walker utilizes Michael Heck’s Communication Theory of Identity. Students choose a group part of their identity and then talk about stereotypes related to that group.  During a discussion students discuss where these stereotypes come from and how it leads to discrimination, marginalization, and privilege. Ms. Walker’s recommended readings can be found by clicking the “Teaching Resources” lack.

How should instructors set up the class so students understand the tenets of critical pedagogy and the vocabulary to talk about social justice issues?

One approach is to encourage students to read Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed which explains the banking concept of education. Then, make parallels between the concepts and the community students belong to. These parallels help students make the connection between power, hegemony, and their own lives.

Another approach is to frontload the class by introducing specific theories. Assign readings and give students the key terms they should understand after they have read the article.

Students can also learn about the issues softly. Throughout the semester, sprinkle in discussions of race, class, gender, ableism, etc. and then at the end of the semester introduce the concepts of power and hegemony.

One way to help students relate and buy in is to be approachable and relatable. Students may be more likely to trust and believe what instructors are saying if they are liked and recognize their own mistakes.

Finally, bring in examples from popular culture and show them how advertisements and media present heteronormativity and privilege.

 How do you deal with students who have strong biases?

Instead of using examples that are close to home use international examples and relate them to the situation in the United States. It is not as personal if the issue is seen abroad first. Alternatively, when a student says a stereotype, talk them through historical examples in the United States. Dr. Vincent found explaining and discussing the genocide of Native Americans provided a framework in the discussion of English as the national language.

When students say something racist, homophobic, etc., say, “Help me understand how you came to that.” Often students with strong biases to a topic have an underlying issue. Students come to class with different experiences, and as teachers we can give them the information. Not everyone will be convinced in a semester. Explain to students listening to alternative arguments helps make them a better writer.

How do you set up classes so you have the time to talk about the content and social justice issues?

First, speech topics and assignments can have a social justice slant. Give students prompting questions to guide their reading. Students could complete an assignment arguing both sides of a topic to see an alternative viewpoint.

To save time on content, go through the textbook and assign specific paragraphs which focus on concepts instead of an entire chapter. This makes any lecture more concise and provides time to apply the material to multiculturalism and inclusion.

Alternatively, we can flip the classroom. Students are assigned the readings and should understand the concepts before coming to class. Then class time is student focused with students taking control and relating concepts to their own lives.

How do you get students to read?

Provide reading prompts to students. If they’re not reading and answering the prompts, give students pop quizzes. If they are still not reading, give students an assignment to teach the class. Students can also have an assignment to create a pitch to sell the class and the concepts they should learn.

Why should classes include social justice content?

The critical approach avoids the banking method of education. Additionally, as there is increased globalization, students need to understand multiple perspectives. It also encourages active engagement as citizens and increases critical thinking.