Nathaniel Voeller

Penn State University//Department of English

Teaching Philosophy

In each of my classes, my primary objective is to help my students grasp a set of transferable rhetorical skills essential in a variety of communication environments. My students find that paying attention to how their language and presentation choices fit their audiences, determining the appropriate balance between logical reasoning and emotional appeals, and otherwise making strategic rhetorical choices can help them become more thoughtful and effective communicators. I also push for a related understanding of style and structure, including a basic understanding of grammar and usage that will help them acquire the skills necessary for future academic work and writing in professional environments. To impress upon my students the importance of these ventures into rhetoric and stylistics, I organize my class around issues that matter to them, ranging from the problem of sexual assault on college campuses to the ways companies seek to express organizational identities. I also ask my students to explore their interests in their own work so they can further focus on what they find important and write for audiences that matter to them.

To help students reach course goals, I employ a variety of different techniques to get them thinking and talking. In almost every class section, I use short and targeted lectures to introduce key topics like the function of definition in argument or rhetorical fallacies. Then, my students and I spend most of a typical class in discussion together. Instead of focusing on terminology or abstract concepts, I try to present rhetoric as a way of thinking by using targeted illustrations. While terminology and abstractions tend to slip away quickly, my goal is to make rhetorical practice in general more opaque to them. I also integrate small group work into many class sessions by asking students to work with specific examples related to the session topic and sometimes make students responsible for presenting their conclusions to the class. This both allows quiet students to be heard and gets them used to presenting in front of groups, a vital skill I hope they will bring with them into the rest of their academic and professional careers. Finally, I strongly encourage my students to speak with me in office hours about assignments, class concepts, and even just the problems in their lives that are getting in the way of their class work so I can make adjustments. Before teaching, I was trained as a professional writing tutor, and I find one-on-one sessions to be the most productive way to engage with students in ways that will improve their writing and ability to operate in the course.

To assess my students’ progress, I pay special attention to student participation and ask them to work in a variety of modes. Because I see my classes as discussion oriented, I require my students to attend and contribute much as they would be expected to in a formal work environment. In each course, I also assign both traditional essays and projects in other modes like film and websites. This mix keeps the class relevant by acknowledging that different modes are most suited to specific topics and audiences and allows my students to see the relevance of what they are learning outside the realm of academic or technical papers.

It is my personal goal as an instructor to make sure that my students leave class prepared to apply their knowledge of communication broadly and professionally. In accordance with this view, my students find that I take them seriously, treating them as trained writers and thinkers who have much to contribute and are expected to work hard to do so. They should leave confident that they have the thinking and communicating skills to successfully engage in their areas of interest as contributing members of their discourse communities.


Contact Me:

Department of English, Penn State University, 430 Burrowes Building, University Park, PA 16802

Find Me: 

Office hours in 003 Burrowes: Tuesdays, 12:30-2:00; Wednesdays, 10:00-11:30; and by appointment.

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