I pride myself on creating a student-centered classroom, one that requires me as the teacher to put the needs of my students first. In my opinion, this type of student first learning environment is best achieved through the use of a pedagogy founded in feminist ideals. Instructors who follow a feminist pedagogy focus on empowering their students in a way that makes them responsible for their own education. While student-centered learning certainly works at every grade level, it is especially important at the collegiate level where our goal is to facilitate the growth process of the next generation of thinkers. Starting this growth process in the first-year writing course is ideal not only because students oftentimes see this course as a necessary evil, but also because it is usually a student’s first experience in a college classroom. Additionally, many students who do not test out of the first-year writing requirement tend to be especially vulnerable when it comes to feeling comfortable in their new environment. First-year writing courses are more than prerequisites they are opportunities to help our students unlock their inner self. In my experience, using engaged pedagogy and a Black feminist lens are the best ways to create a student-centered pedagogy.
Engaged pedagogy introduced by bell hooks in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, asks the instructor to “be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students” (15). So, while feminist pedagogy focuses on allowing your students to have a voice in the classroom, engaged pedagogy takes this a step further by asking you as the instructor to open up as well. hooks believes that we cannot ask our students to do something we ourselves are not willing to do, and I’m inclined to agree. I make an effort to engage in activities with my students, so they do not feel like they are the only ones being open. I share my struggles with writing and reluctance to being open. I’ve let them see both my professional blog for their class and my personal blog that’s for fun. I am open about my own collegiate experiences as a first generation, working class, minority in a system that was not fully built for me.
I choose to include a Black feminist lens not only because I am a Black woman, but because it is my opinion that students of all racial makeups can benefit from Black feminist pedagogy in different ways. Black feminist pedagogy allows any disenfranchised student, regardless of race/ethnicity, an opportunity to have their voice heard. It encourages an awareness of intersectionality between race, gender, and social class in a way that many other forms of pedagogy neglect. Even the most privileged white, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper class white male student will be able to notice the difference in this classroom and that of teacher centered one. Simply put, all students benefit from a Black feminist pedagogy not only because it is student-centered, but it also creates a community; puts the students in charge of their own education by challenging them to discuss/write about the hard issues; and allows their voice to be heard the use of personal experiences in writing.
Engaged and Black feminist pedagogy work hand and hand to create an enlightening and fulfilling educational experience for all students. Classrooms with these pedagogical practices challenge students to think beyond words on a page. They start to think about the individuals who are impacted. It forces them to look on the inside and focus on what they bring into a situation from their own lived experiences that may make them feel a certain way about things. It moves from beyond grammar and five paragraph essays, and into writing with an authentic voice and compassion. These are things that all students need to experience no matter how they identify.