There is an electric moment of discovery, when, in an instant, a student's perspective ignites. This experience cultivates a lingering interest in the subject that extends beyond the course. As an instructor, I structure my lectures to facilitate such moments, and I then craft my assignments to guide the students towards recognizing the material work of concepts across cultural production and the associated artifacts in their lives. For example, I have walked my students, and other classes, around campus to sites of racial hate crimes and bias, where we have discussed not only what happened and what it revealed but also read from Peggy McIntosh's "White Privilege" at each site, after which I have asked the students to write a reflection piece.
My lectures are conversational and active, and they always revolve around real objects. This not only allows the class to move beyond surface details but also opens up space for students with various learning styles to engage with the content. For example, when teaching analysis, I would start by discussing a previously assigned reading by Wittgenstein to uncover particular areas to revisit in the lecture; then, doubling as an in-class activity and practical application of the reading, I would ask the students to explore popular songs for illogical, incoherent lyrics; finally, as an in-class writing exercise, I would ask the students to use logic to respond to an open-ended prompt, after which the class could compare the anonymous compositions to evaluate which techniques were effective and why. This approach would not only enable the students to absorb the theory but also learn practical techniques and gain practical experience of using them, thereby enhancing the intensity of the students' learning outcomes.
From in-class activities to flipped classrooms, on topics from popular culture to narratological genres, I structure my lectures to incorporate a wide range of experiences and examples in order to demonstrate to the students the importance of convincingly arguing and evidencing their claims. Moreover, I often take traditional methods and approach them obliquely to allow the students to connect more deeply with concepts than notes or texts alone allow. For example, when teaching argumentation, I would assign a philosophy article by Judith Jarvis Thomson that uses multiple situational and conceptual metaphors to show how analogies bolster claims. My lessons are inspired by the Robert Hutchins quote that an "education is not to reform students... or to make them expert technicians" but to "unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, [and] teach them to think straight." Collectively, these goals serve as the academic paradigm on which my teaching philosophy is based. Since this paradigm easily lends itself to the modern English curriculum without changing the expected core outcomes, I am able to foster a transformative learning environment, which I measure through process-based assignments and debriefing conversations.
While my focus as a teacher has always centered on student growth, the craft of teaching has required me to grow as well. When I began teaching, I primarily relied on lectures and discussion, but I came to understand how crucial engagement is to the production and transference of knowledge. Now, I create pre- and post-lecture materials, often leveraging popular culture, to prime and reinforce learning objectives, thereby dramatically improving the quality of in-class discussions and project deliverables. Further, I continue to refine my approach and techniques on the basis of student feedback and professional observations.
Whether teaching composition or literature, I ensure that my courses introduce crucial analytic, multimodal, and collaborative opportunities that not only fit within a broader liberal arts curriculum but also translate well into professional workplace competencies. Thus, my approach to course development interweaves effective writing with academic achievement, intellectual curiosity, and cooperative problem-solving. Above all, my courses bolster critical and lateral thinking—skills that can only be developed through discovery.
Select Student Comments
"Zea is probably one of the greatest teachers that I have ever had. His passion, not only for his subject matter, but also his students is unmatched in any course I have seen here at Purdue, or previously."
"I can say with no doubt in my mind that Zea Miller is the best instructor I have had while at Purdue University. I have never had a teacher that is so caring, personal, practical, understanding, adaptable, respectful, respectable, or admirable as much as Zea."
"I have probably learned more from Zea Miller this semester than I have in the past 15 years of my academic career. I have never been more inspired and motivated to take on the world and pursue my dreams and ambitions than when I was taking this class."