Eleven years ago, a student came to me after Thanksgiving break and said: “Dr. Hultquist, you totally ruined 2 Fast 2 Furious for me. There was nothing to analyze in the whole film! It really bothered me. What movies do you like to think about?” The comment was evidence that a student had accomplished several of the pedagogical goals I set for my classes every semester. She knew how to gather evidence and analyze; she was recognizing and challenging her assumptions; she approached me with ease and respect; she was anxious to continue the conversation, to learn more. Comments like this one demonstrate that students have taken classroom skills, such as close reading, analysis, and the desire to learn more, into their daily lives. These goals are the centerpieces of my teaching philosophy.
My teaching is informed by the work of great teachers I have known, whether they have been my own instructors or colleagues with whom I have worked. I appreciate professors and colleagues who are prepared, clear, engaging, flexible, and encouraging and I learn most when educators are excited by the material. Such approaches create a classroom where every time we meet there is a real conversation about a topic, that we are all in the room trying to answer questions together. I approach the classroom with authority and approachability, which makes students feel safe and allows them to think, to talk, to challenge me, to test and shape their own ideas. Initially I synthesize their comments to shape a larger conversation, but because my goal is to foster their critical independence, slowly I drop out so students lead each other.
Because my teaching and research are symbiotic, I provide clear information and strategies based on my own intellectual enthusiasms. I shaped a recent course based on my scholarly work on adaptation studies: I chose primary readings that had several variants across genres and literary periods. I chose secondary readings that provided a critical frame for inquiry and together the students and I formulated a list of questions based on the readings as a starting point for analysis. I organized lectures along these lines of inquiry to demonstrate how the questions turn into analysis. Students read for specific textual moments to prepare for discussion: “Is it a local or global adaptation? Which scene acts as the adaptive event? What has been discarded or retained and for what ends? What is derivative? What is original?” If students got lost or overwhelmed in a reading, they were to go back to that inquiry list, a technique that allowed them to get away from summary, character description, and author intent, and instead move toward analytical discourse. If the class discussion derailed, this list made it easy to get everyone back on track.
The details change from class to class, but the techniques of critical enquiry do not: a late-eighteenth century course I recently taught was organized thematically rather than theoretically. Students asked three questions of each text we read: “What is Romantic about this text? What is feminist? What is revolutionary?” This approach is effective whether the course is a lower-level generalist course or an upper-level specific course, though I adjust the reading and the types of assignments to ensure that more experienced students continue to be challenged and interested by the content. My higher-level classes offer larger scope for individual research and idea development. Assignments in these courses model professional outcomes: reading a research book turns into an assignment to write a book review; organizing thoughts for an end-of-term paper becomes an assignment in writing an abstract for a conference. My links to the digital humanities journal ABO, and its counterpart ABOPublic, allow a forum for publication, whether in peer-review form or as part of a public intellectual blog.
Primarily, I teach through writing. Art Young’s ideas about how students can write effectively across the curriculum are particularly influential on my teaching. I create assignments that clearly distinguish between “writing to think” and “writing to communicate”: daily responses are required and posted on discussion boards, but evaluated for ideas rather than organization or grammar; formal essays have clear parameters for structure, research integration, and basic editing requirements. Class learning is most effective when students realize that writing helps them to think, so I define the scaffolding for the course and point out when it gets dismantled. Showing students the pedagogy behind writing assignments makes them more apt to participate and communicate, so in class we discuss not only the assignment and how to get there, but also why it exists. When students see how the assignment leads to the pedagogical goal (those seemingly mystical learning outcomes in course descriptions), the learning process becomes far less numinous and tyrannical; students feel they have a hand in their learning process, which raises the stakes for them and demands their participation. For this reason, students often give me feedback that describes how they felt able to truly engage in my classes.
An important element of my teaching philosophy is that I can always be better. I regularly ask for observations and advice from colleagues. Through these outreach moments, I have had effective peer guidance such as, “It is far more effective for discussion to ask a question that you don’t have the answer to.” I also seek feedback from students about what is working for them and what isn’t to make sure that I am reaching my pedagogical goals. I do an informal, anonymous, mid-semester evaluation and make immediate use of what I learn. That might mean reshaping subsequent lessons to their needs and learning styles, giving more time to lectures and teacher-centered discussion, and by offering incremental in-class group work. In one case, at the students’ bequest, I found strategies to wrest the conversation from one enthusiastic talker.
I am often asked about the relevance of my early modern literature, my particular concentration of research and teaching, to a current university curriculum, and its seemingly obscure significance to contemporary thought and culture. The writing of the eighteenth century is the basis for the American government and legal system (John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government), for modern economic theory (Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations), and the scientific method (Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia). The eighteenth century saw the emergence of the first professional women writer (Aphra Behn), new literary forms which have now become canonical (the novel and journalism), and modern literary criticism (essays on drama and satire by John Dryden and Alexander Pope). Once students realize that they are the direct product of eighteenth-century thought and culture, once students understand the centrality of eighteenth-century writing to their own daily life and practices, they get excited about the other possibilities they discover over the course of the semester. They want to learn more, which is my ultimate objective.