Dr. Tim Doherty
Director, Center for Faculty Excellence
Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, Amherst
M.A., University of Massachusetts, Amherst
B.A., University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Phone: (603) 897-8483; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Writing pedagogy
- Renaissance drama
- Rhetorical theory
- Early 20th century women’s labor movement
After graduating as an English major from UMass-Amherst in 1983, Tim Doherty spent his first three years after college teaching at the Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont, a private residential school for learning-disabled boys, ages 8-15. While teaching at Greenwood, he spent three summers at the Pine Ridge School outside of Burlington, Vermont as a teacher-trainer in Orton-Gillingham, a multi-sensory, phonics-based remedial reading method for dyslexics. By 1988, he got the itch to return to grad school, beginning his doctoral studies in English at UMass-Amherst, and teaching first-year composition throughout the eight years of his program there. He did a dual concentration in English Renaissance literature and Rhetoric and Composition, completing a dissertation with Peter Elbow entitled "College Writing and the Resources of Theater." That title might suggest something of his values as a teacher of writing: he believes in creating experiences that help people play with language and perspective. Since 1999, he has directed first-year writing and the writing-across-the curriculum program at Rivier.
My teaching life has been dedicated to conversation, enriching talk with students and colleagues. Great conversations—and the writing and presentations that can emerge from them—need a firm starting point, and that takes design and preparation. What should students understand and be able to do as a result of reading, discussion, and writing about a subject? What do they already know, and how can I tap that? What questions do they have, and how can those questions provide a starting point? With the right preparation, I try to establish context and relevance.
I have tried to shape first-year writing courses to focus on conflict resolution through the interplay of perspectives and voices. I completed a 40-hour course in community mediation, to see how that might fertilize my approach. Mediators orient themselves to conflict in a way that is open and productive: conflict is something we needn’t fear, but rather is natural in community, a chance to use dialogue to make a better, more just world. Today, empathic communication about ethical conflicts seems impossible. When public dialogue is predominantly channeled through major media outlets, and is often characterized by shouting, who can blame students for tuning out? Somehow the classroom needs to offer students a place to negotiate difficult moral judgments and, further, to help them envision public venues for their deliberations beyond the classroom. With two colleagues at Franklin Pierce University, I am working on a book about teaching through uses of role-play, dialogue, and deliberative public forums in order to teach for peace.
For all formal essays in my writing courses, I offer feedback and evaluation to writers through five, one-on-one conferences spread across the semester, helping me to connect with students as people, helping them to see me as a writing coach. In this regard, I have learned much from K-12 colleagues in such books as Mary Warner’s Winning Ways of Coaching Writing (2001), and Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them (2008). Educational outcomes matter, but it is the chance to discuss them with students themselves that matters most to me.
When teaching Shakespeare to both English majors and non-majors, I hold class in a dormitory lounge, pursuing a “rehearsal” approach. Adapting a model of performance-based teaching advocated by The Folger Library in their series Shakespeare Set Free, I opt for fewer plays (five), arranging students in different groups for each play, asking each group to take ownership of a particular Act. Formal and informal writing and research are woven into this cooperative process. With careful planning and ongoing facilitation of the process, I see most college students move from a tentative sense of character and a halting delivery of blank verse to much more fluent, confident performances that enact their interpretations of scenes and do justice to the beauty of Shakespeare’s lines. In a sense, they find a Shakespearean voice for themselves.
Ultimately, two values drive my teaching: empathy and transformation. The social nature of literacy underscores the promise of language to cultivate peace. Our capacity for empathy, the capacity to imagine others, captures my imagination. I want my professional life to be about that, deeply. Through active, experiential, learner-centered classroom environments and lessons, transformation of each learner is possible. With ample opportunities to engage each other in conversation, students will gain confidence and competence in the art of conversation itself. The same vision I have for students applies to me: conversation brings mutual flourishing. The more present and available I make myself to students, genuinely listening to them, the better their education and the better my teaching life.
- “Lessons from the Believing Game.” The Journal of the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning 15 (Winter 2009-2010). Peter Elbow, editor. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English.
- “Engaging Students in Dialogue.” Rivier Academic Journal (3.1 Spring 2007).
- “Restructuring in Higher Education and the Relationship between Literature and Composition.” Composition and/or Literature: The End(s) of Education. Linda Bergmann and Edith Baker, editors. National Council of the Teachers of English, 2006.
- “The Coalition Rhetoric of Rose Schneiderman.” Rhetorical Democracy: Selected Papers from the 2002 Rhetoric Society of America Conference. Gerard A. Hauser, editor. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. (2003).