I am an educator, speaker, performer and a fabulous human. I have been a Communication professor for over 15 years, specializing in areas of gender & sexuality, public speaking, rhetoric, and performance. Both through my teaching and research, I am particularly interested in exploring critical and queer theories to interrogate existing systems and boundaries. I am fascinated by how communication shapes our identities and relationships. In 2015, I gave a TEDx Talk called “No Apology Living” and have since been utilizing those theories to help people think through choices and become stronger advocates for themselves. In addition to being teaching faculty at UWM, I also spend time doing educational speaking, cooking for my loved ones, and basking in the magnificence of existence with my 2 year-old!
TEACHING AND LEARNING PHILOSOPHY
“Urging all of us to open our minds and hearts so that we can know beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable, so that we can think and rethink, so that we can create new visions, I celebrate teaching that enables transgressions—a movement against and beyond boundaries. It is that movement which makes education the practice of freedom.” –bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress
After teaching the first day of class in my master’s program, I called my mom to happily squeal about how wonderful it was. While I had coached competitive speech for years, directed full length theater productions, and taught summer theater courses, this was the first time I was officially teaching a college course. My mom often tells people about that call, how I was filled with joy, ecstatic I had found something that felt so right. Recently, after teaching my three-hour night class, I called my mom on the hour-long drive home. She noticed I was getting started later than usual, and I explained how a student needed to stay after to talk about some personal things. He had told me he hadn’t really found anyone on campus he felt comfortable talking to, but he felt comfortable talking to me. “Imagine that!” she teased me. In these moments of articulating my experiences I can feel how encompassing my teaching philosophy is. Teaching is my vocation; it is the place where my talents, skills, and passions come together to enact change.
As I enter my twelfth year of teaching, I find myself still firm in the belief that education is a constant process which entwines teaching with learning. There is a direct link between teaching and learning, each needing the other to fully flourish. While I often find myself in a classroom, I am very aware of the fluid boundaries that allow the exchange of knowledge and understanding to happen in any context. Therefore, I am always teaching. Whether I am in a classroom, mentoring a student in my office, answering an email, or having an impromptu discussion about gender theory in an elevator, I am teaching. As I am a constant teacher, I am also a constant learner. To be a strong teacher, it is necessary to also embrace empathetic listening, self-reflection and growth as a continuous learner. As I evolve as a learner and a teacher, I also grow and develop as a human and an engaged citizen. Ultimately, my desire to teach and learn, in order to foster the growth of myself and others, keeps me in academia.
The methods which guide my teaching are based in critical pedagogy. I work hard to make the classroom a safe/brave space to explore, fail, discover, learn, and succeed. As the teacher, I often receive “hoop jumping” questions—students want to know exactly how I want them to do something or what the “right” answer is. They have been socialized to think within the binary of right and wrong, while assuming I have all of the answers because of my authority as the teacher. In my rhetoric and actions, I work to remind them that there is not one correct answer, but rather we must employ critical thinking in order to understand what is effective and justified within a given context while being aware of oppressive power dynamics. My job is not to give them strict rules to “jump” through. Rather, it is more important I teach them how to think critically, allowing them to handle any situation. My experience certainly matters in setting up expectations within a course, but I work to create transparency that shows the choices and thought behind the course guidelines.
I find creating an atmosphere of empathy, trust, and respect allows me to retain respect as a person with experience while not wielding a traditional fear of authority. I want to be willing to give advice and experience, yet always able to listen and humble enough to realize when I lack information. I do my best to critically fight against normative systems of power which oppress and marginalize.
My classes are interactive spaces full of energy, activity, questioning, and excitement. With pedagogy always in mind, I strive for the best ways to aid my students in comprehending the material and applying it to their lives. I have become known for this type of interactive, engaging, and performative teaching. Using a system based on consent, I use a lot of volunteers, illustrations, and personal stories. Overwhelmingly, I get comments on student evaluations, essays and reflections about how my teaching style is effective in helping them to understand the material. I am often thanked for the exciting, upbeat atmosphere created in my classes. Instead of trying to explain with multiple examples how my teaching style comes across, I thought it would be best to let the students tell you :
As much as I was dreading having to take this class, I have to say it was one of my favorites I have taken, which I never thought I would say. THANKS MIZZO FOR A GREAT SEMESTER, I COULDN’T HAVE ASKED FOR A BETTER INSTRUCTOR AND AUDIENCE. (Public Speaking)
Mizzo, I think you are a bright light in a sea of mundane professors and you’re able to shine brightly, even through a computer screen. That will impact my life. (Group Dynamics Online)
You structured your class differently from any other classroom that I have been a part of. I have been to 5 different elementary schools, 1 high school, and 3 different colleges and not once have I been in a classroom that approaches class the way you have. Who gives celebrations of knowledge? no one, everyone else gives a test. Who opens your mind to a difference in thinking and makes you show that knowledge in a celebratory way? no one but you Mizzo. I thank you for that, and that is my favorite take away from this class, it is something I’ll never forget. (Intercultural Communication)
The reason that all of us were able to talk about the things that we did during our personal narratives is completely your fault. You did an awesome job at actually creating this so-called safe space that we see on all the doors. Thank you for allowing us all to grow as people and creating an amazing inviting environment. (Advanced Public Speaking)
It was a class where everyone can be open-minded and welcome. It was a safe place for people to share personal stories and learn about the wonderful things of gender communication I didn’t even realize were happening in this world. After taking this class, I feel that I live in a gender-lens world. Seeing things that I know are being gendered, stereotyped and all of the above makes me feel confident in where I stand with gender communication, even though I still have a lot to learn 🙂 (Gender Communication)
Though I don’t remember her name the speech teacher from the staff panel really impacted me. I liked how outgoing and caring she was, it really made me feel like I would be cared about here on campus. (Feedback from a perspective student on a campus visit)
It is my hope that this small selection of comments gives you a dynamic image of my teaching and how it is received by students. I have also had some critiques throughout the years, which I take very seriously and use to grow and improve. One area I have greatly improved upon is the clarity in my information giving. Whether it is teaching a theory or explaining an assignment, I have greatly improved upon my the methods I use to effectively get the information to the students. I have worked hard to become more organized and have actively improved the ways I explain and give examples. It has been such a great experience to teach the same concepts for over ten years and to see the ways I have improved in teaching them.
In my life and career, coaching is a specific place in which I teach. I very purposely keep my teaching and coaching philosophies and directing have become synonymous to teaching. Whether I am coaching a speech piece, directing an improv scene or helping a student prepare for their first poetry open mic, I continually explore and encourage students to think and learn. I have developed multiple analogies and ways of explaining techniques and training over the years. While these are useful in classroom situations, having multiple exercises and ways of explaining a concept are even more important in directing and coaching. I have worked to fine tune multiple ways of teaching a concept so that I can teach to multiple learners and have different ways of reiterating the lessons in different situations.
In many ways, the philosophies in which I utilize for teaching and coaching are the same as as my life philosophies. I am confident it helps students negotiate the waters between life and education, as well as within those two spheres. I am excited to talk to you more about what I believe is teaching excellence and how I would apply these skills to your courses.
*Quotations have been selected with permission from assignments, reflections and personal emails. I have purposely selected a variety of positionalities to speak about my teaching.