I taught my first class in graduate school, as many of you probably did too: I was getting a Master's in English and was assigned to teach a section of first-year English. I can remember very little about it except that I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing: it was a harrowing experience, to say the very least. After finishing the MA, I taught in middle and high school—mostly grades 10, 11, and 12—and that's where I began to grow more and more devoted to students and to learn more and more about what I did and did not know. So after several years, I applied to a PhD program and was lucky enough to be admitted (though I was on the wait list for a long time). I studied a lot of literature but I also was fortunate enough to take many classes in the history and theory of rhetoric and in composition theory. Along the way, I began to establish the principles that have guided my research and teaching ever since:
* Writing may seem solitary but it seldom (or never) really is: writers are always in conversation with others, if only in their heads. So writing is social and deeply collaborative; it should bring people together.
* Rhetorical theory and history provide a strong and enduring basis for writing studies: the ancient rhetors figured out some very important points: audience and purpose are key to everything in writing; context is all-important—writing needs to fit the situation perfectly; writing is essentially about making choices.
* All writers have strengths and weaknesses: it is our job to help identify them and guide students in achieving their own purposes. It is also our job to attend to student writing with the deepest care and seriousness. As philosopher Maxine Greene reminds us, when we enter every class we should know that there is at least one student in there who is "infinitely our superior in both heart and mind." I've had this proven true so many times that I've stopped counting!
* Rhetoric and writing are plastic arts, stretching themselves to meet the demands of every new age. This principle has never been more important than it is right now, when we are in the midst of a huge revolution in literacy.