As a young child, I had a speech defect. I didn’t start talking clearly until I was four years old, but once I started, I never stopped. Maybe I went into teaching because I wanted to be heard. Maybe this is why I work so hard to find my voice as a teacher and to empower students to find their own voices.
Why is the key goal of a criminologist to help students find their voices? Because when students find their voices, they can argue persuasively orally and in writing. And to argue well, a student must learn facts; marshal facts to support arguments; weigh evidence; and be able to see arguments from many points of view. Students who can do all this are empowered to get their voices heard above the din of other voices.
Of course, you may feel that students must know something before they have anything valuable to voice. I agree. Therefore, I expect students to devote most of the time spent on homework to learning the “facts of the case.” To help students learn these facts, I provide study questions on each reading. To ensure that the readings are completed, I quiz over one of these study questions at the top of each class period. By assigning readings and giving quizzes over them, I let my readings do my lecturing. Therefore, I became known as the teacher who doesn’t lecture.
To focus each day’s discussion and keep it going, I ask each student to post a paragraph on the learning management system before class each day. These posts become the centerpiece of discussion. Whenever the discussion slows, I ask another student to share their post, which provokes a new round of discussion.
I assess students on how much content they have learned as well as how well they have learned to argue about criminal justice issues. To assess content knowledge, students are tested daily on one short answer question and again at the time at the midterm and final exams. To assess how well they have learned to argue, students write formal argumentative essay papers and answer essay questions on the exams.
In addition to assessing my students’ work, I also assess my own work as a teacher. To self-assess, I rely on my own inner voice and the voices of my students. Every midterm, I give students an evaluation that asks them to write at least one full paragraph about their experience in the class. Then, students discuss it with a group and tell me about their main concerns. Afterwards, I just listen without responding except to ask questions to clarify concerns. The next day I come back with some changes I am prepared to make, some requested changes that are nonnegotiable (I explain why), and some changes they may want to consider making themselves based upon their own self-reports.
I try to be constantly responsive to student concerns, especially the ones that are aimed at helping them learn more. It seems that my teaching is a constant effort to improve based on what I’m hearing from students. Over the years, it’s been their collective voices that are responsible for most of the good things about me as a teacher. It reminds me about what one anonymous writer said about her readers (Boice 1994:58): “I’ve just imagined a large chorus of faces, all the people who have given me [feedback]… I can, more or less, hear them all at once, in near-concert. They have a special message for me. I must listen. I must listen.”