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Embracing Weird: A Teaching Philosophy

by Brian Baumgart, English Faculty

I’ve had millions of folks (okay, dozens) ask me about my philosophy of teaching over the years, and I’ll readily admit that I’ve had a variety of answers, some that are more developed than others and some that only come to me right in that moment because that’s what I’m thinking of when I’m asked.

And, really, it’s because I’m weird. Maybe.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, so hold on: I’m an English professor and was the Director of Creative Writing at NHCC for just over a decade. I’m a poet, fiction writer, essayist, awkward conversationalist, and passionate supporter of the underdog.

So when I say I’m weird, I don’t really mean that I’m so bizarre that there’s no real understanding of who I am or what I teach or where I’m from. What I mean is that my weirdness is a personality that embraces other weirdness.

This personality, too, is directly correlated to my philosophy of teaching. In general, the field of creative writing—as with other fine arts—accepts this pretty readily, but it’s not a forgone approach because, yes, teaching is a science.[1]

Have I confused you enough yet?

In my creative writing classes, we have plenty to learn, plenty to demonstrate, plenty to experience, but my teaching philosophy tells me this: to learn, a student must experiment. A student must challenge themselves to try something new. A student must take risks. A student must be willing to be weird, to buck the system, to take what they’re learning and turn it on its head.

A student must be willing to fail.[2]

Now I know how terrifying that last sentence sounds: “A student must be willing to fail.” But that doesn’t mean fail the course or even fail an assignment in that traditional way; what it means is that we need to be able to take risks, have them not work out, and learn about what does or doesn’t work in the process. Be weird. In my teaching philosophy: I reward risks. I reward trying something new. I reward failing. Because it’s not easy, and because without getting in the water, we don’t learn to swim.[3]

And that’s how I teach, too. I take risks. I try new approaches. I buck the system. I experiment. I shift and alter the movement of the course to fit the needs of my students. I (try to) give students the power to dictate the path they take. I embrace the weird.

We might be at a challenging time in education—in the whole world, for that matter—and we, hopefully, are all curious people, looking to discover who we are, to make the lives of our fellow humans better, to challenge ourselves to improve, to make art—in whichever way is right for us—that speaks to the world. And for that, we must be weird, or everything stays the same. And how boring is that?


[1] You’re welcome to disagree with me on this—I often do—but since I have a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education, someone else thinks it’s a science, too.

[2] Breathe. It’s okay, Just keep reading.

[3] If you’re thinking, “where did that metaphor come from?” I’m with you. It’s awkward and only kinda-sorta makes sense.

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