Teaching Philosophy

As with my research interests in United States literature and culture, my teaching interests are wide in scope, because in all of my work I strive to read early and nineteenth-century American culture forward into the twenty-first century. Both my scholarship and my teaching appeal to diverse audiences, varying in backgrounds and specializations, which has allowed me to teach successfully in a range of courses in all periods of American literature; special topic courses that include focus on representations of race and gender in literary and cultural studies; and all core literature, composition, and rhetoric courses.

Drawing upon my teaching of literature and writing at Stony Brook University, I recognize the value to an interdisciplinary education for professionalization in numerous careers and studies. I design courses to appeal to both English majors and non-majors in order to show how active engagement with texts varying in form and content allows students to draw upon the past towards analyzing their contemporary surroundings. I have designed and taught a course on representations of the human body in United States literature, in which I include literary texts from the nineteenth century to the contemporary period so to guide students to consider the body with regard to race, gender, class, and religion. As with this course, I am prepared to develop courses that encourage students to pursue interdisciplinary research. Without such appreciation for the relationship of the past to the present, and the study of literature to other disciplines, students risk overlooking notable contributions to the American literary canon, whereas in all of my classes I guide students to appreciate the diversity of literary forms, and gendered and racial subjectivities that continue to inform contemporary United States culture.

In my classes, students engage with a variety of texts to practice reading and writing strategies that will be valuable in approaching challenges in their professional and personal lives. In my courses on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century United States literature, I include readings drawn from more recent works in comics, film, television, and online, to demonstrate the continued influence that these older works have on contemporary cultural products. This approach was successful in my special topics course on the resonance of Edgar Allan Poe in popular culture because I require that students use our class to write a researched paper on a topic of their choice, and an associated 15-minute lecture presented to the class. Students seize upon the opportunity to guide course content based on their academic and personal interests, which has resulted in an eclectic set of researched essays and lectures, each of which is not only well argued but, because of students’ own passion for their topics, translates into energetic classroom discussions that attract more students to literature courses. As one student wrote in a course evaluation, “Professor McGrath never runs a boring class. Whether we’re talking about how zombies are used to reflect pop culture or about how to properly use block quotations, the class is never dull.”

These conversations that students have with me continue long after each day of class concludes, even after the semester concludes, as students because stay in contact with me through course web pages that we co-design. In both my upper-division literary courses and core composition courses, I assign online assignments so that students draw upon their already adept skills at web design and ability to write effectively to online audiences, so that in our class they will translate those skills in application to academic and professional rhetoric and writing. We as a class design our course pages through academic web sites, such as Digication and Blackboard, and social media web sites, such as Tumblr and Twitter, to consider how to address diverse audiences separately and simultaneously. My students come to appreciate the ethics of online writing, recognizing the responsibility that they take as authors when they put their name to the research that they pursue and the arguments that they put forward to an audience outside of our classroom. After students have successfully placed themselves into graduate studies and jobs following graduation, I continue to communicate with these students through our web sites, answering their questions to guide how they present their materials in their research, publishing, and careers.

As I have accomplished at Stony Brook University, I undergraduate and graduate students for successful placement into bachelor’s degree programs and positions in a wide number of careers. Based on my successful conference organizing for the Northeast Modern Language Association, I look forward to continuing to guide students in professionalizing their presentation for public speaking and job interviews. Students in my classes conclude their semesters having refined those interpretative and rhetorical skills that they have developed already in their personal lives. The goal I encourage students to have when they take my classes is to refine those innate research and writing skills that they already posses so that they may professionalize those skills to their benefit in a variety of disciplines and professions.

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