As a teacher, I strive to show students that literary texts do not express some isolable and remote tradition but are part of their diverse cultural heritage, embracing living issues which remain of relevance to them. For many years, I have worked closely with students on an individual and class basis, eliciting knowledge from them, helping them to generate their own ideas and to achieve their own intellectual, emotional and moral identities.
My teaching strategies appear to have enjoyed some success, as attested persistently by both student evaluations and the reports of my colleagues. I was given the Provost’s Teaching Excellence Award at Rutgers University in Spring 2003. I have taught a wide range of courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. While the main initial focus of my teaching competence was Literary Theory and Modern British Literature, I have tried to broaden my interests in ways commensurate with the increasingly diverse backgrounds and needs of today’s students, as well as with an increasingly international climate fraught with rapid political and intellectual change. I have, for example, created and taught at Rutgers new courses in Literary Criticism, Islamic History and Literature, Postcolonial Literature, Virginia Woolf and Feminism, and an entire course devoted to examining closely the texts of Freud in the light of twentieth-century developments. In the undergraduate curriculum, I have devised a new course in Middle Eastern and Indian Literature and a new departmentally required course entitled Literatures in English III, which includes many issues raised in postcolonial studies.
I am aware that no student will ever take my classes on the presumption that they will be easy. I am somewhat old-fashioned in my approach to teaching; I do not regard my work as remedial instruction. Rather, I believe in making students work hard to reach the highest level they can attain. At the same time, I think that their opinions, when based on a serious endeavour to engage with texts and ideas, deserve respectful consideration and encouragement. In my view, learning is at its profoundest core, as both Plato and Aristotle recognised, a dialogic process: the classroom is a place where I too can learn from students’ often academically unjaded readings of texts and revise my own notions accordingly.
Having attempted to institute these principles in my teaching practice, I am gratified by the oustanding achievements of many of my students. Some of them have helped me with my professional research projects. For example, I enlisted the help of two graduate students, Tim Laquintano and Evan Roskos, in my work as editor of the Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume VI. A few years ago, as part of their course work, students in my Literary Criticism class read and offered critiques of several chapters of the manuscript of my book A History of Literary Criticism. Another graduate student with whom I worked closely, Laurie Garrison, was accepted into the Ph.D program at Birckbeck College, London, and has now completed her doctorate. A former student with whom I worked very closely, Mr. Ernie Hilbert, was accepted into the Graduate Program at Oxford University, where he completed his doctorate. In Fall 1997 I worked on an an Independent Study with a student on Kant and Schopenhauer. The student was accepted into a prestigious graduate program in Europe. In my undergraduate class on “Yeats, Eliot and Pound,” I explained to the students that I was working to publish a book on Eliot and I asked for their co-operation. They produced interpretations of Eliot’s major poems which caused me to rethink my attitude towards Eliot’s poetry. In my graduate course on Virginia Woolf, taught in Summer 1994, we went into Woolf’s philosophical background and painstakingly read the difficult texts of G.E. Moore and Henri Bergson. Finally, I remember that, several years ago, during an independent study at Bloomsburg I spent more than six hours per week with a student closely reading the texts of Kant and Hegel. In each of these cases, I learned a great deal and the students found within themselves a potential hitherto unrealised.
As Director of the Writing Program (Fall 1996 – Spring 2002), I worked closely with the Learning Resource Centre to initiate a program of peer writing assistance. I undertook independent studies with numerous students in order to train them for their tasks as writing assistants.
I think that the best thing we can do for students — far more important than merely giving them facts or received interpretations — is to encourage them to think for themselves and to realise their potential and the directions in which they can excel. The students who have learned most from me have done so beyond the classroom: at poetry readings and other literary events, at seminars, discussion groups, workshops and — not least — in casual conversation. They learn that their lives are important and even precious to me; and they come to realise that learning is not merely an intellectual experience but a moral, emotional and political process. Its deepest roots and profoundest inspiration lie in humanity and compassion: in a desire to see others succeed and grow, to lift those who have fallen (or are falling).