If you had told me in high school, as I was scraping through junior year chemistry, that part of my job as a writing teacher would be to talk about gene extraction in fluorescent jellyfish to college sophomores, I would have laughed. However, as a writing fellow in a biological sciences department, I regularly field questions from both faculty and students around what my expertise as a compositionist has to bear on writing that happens in “content courses.” Although my grasp on scientific concepts remains shaky, I think, write, and teach like a rhetorician. As a teacher, a writing center tutor and administrator, or an academic colleague, I am able to talk about writing across many disciplines because the field of composition and rhetoric trained me in listening and tuning into what questions to ask when, and to be a discerning reader of both texts and the rhetorical contexts they live in.
To communicate adeptly with others is to continuously flex this listening muscle; further, to teach and to model this listening is the “bread and butter” of critical pedagogy. Keen listening is the frame that I have used when teaching students across many disciplines how to read in and write to various knowledge communities, In order to create that kind of writing class experience, I build the arcs of my courses and lessons around the students’ own inquiries, positioning them to engage in writing activities that do not only ask them to hone composition and communication skills, but refine how they situate and analyze the discourses that they come across in the world beyond the classroom. Thus, as a composition and rhetoric teacher, I am tasked with modeling the rhetorical “tuning in” practice that I teach. By honing a flexible and responsive pedagogy that taps into the questions and experiences students bring into the classroom, I strive to facilitate students’ learning process on how to perceive audience and be adept and critical readers not just in academic settings but their broader world.