What is your favorite lesson to cover and why?
My favorite lesson is teaching poetry to my students. My students come to me very skeptical about poetry. They think that it is sappy or cheesy or tricky — that it is something that doesn’t really speak to them. I think that once you learn how to read poetry well and once you are exposed to really good poetry, it is the strongest way to convey how powerful language can be. I tell my students that when you find a really good poem that speaks to you, it is so powerful that it makes you want to lie down on the floor. It is overwhelmingly powerful because it’s striking a chord that has always existed in you and you didn’t know that you could be hit by something that you read in the world. Thinking of particular moments of teaching poetry, I remember the times when I have taken my classes outside and we sit under one of the beautiful sycamore trees on the quad and we read this amazing poetry. It could be poetry that was written last year and it could be poetry that was written 400 years ago. It lives on.
How do you see & instill a passion for social justice in your students?
I think what is incredibly important as an English teacher is to convince students how important language is. It’s not just important because someone has just told you that reading Shakespeare is what a cultured person should do. It is important because language is the medium through which people exist in the world and that power is transferred through. Literature is not a dead thing. Literature is a record of human culture. We can look at writing from the past and see how social justice issues were confronted. In freshman year, we look at Harlem Renaissance writing a great deal. My AP English Literature students also look at contemporary writing. They are looking at sonnets written by Terrance Hayes, for example, called “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin,” where they are looking at poetry that is addressing police brutality now. Hayes is using the form of the sonnet, which is something that was shaped by Shakespeare. He is taking this rich cultural heritage that we have as English speakers and he is using it to effect change in the present. So that is why I think English is so important, because it is learning about how language works and how language is ultimately the most important instrument for social justice.
Besides teaching, what other roles do you play on campus?
In addition to teaching Creative Writing, AP English Literature and Freshman English, I am also the moderator for the creative writing club, The Scribblers. The Scribblers is a very active club. They participate in Poetry Out Loud, which is a poetry recitation contest. In the past, they have put on SLAM poetry presentations. Finally, the most important thing that the club does is put together our creative writing magazine, The Scribbler. It’s full of student art, student poetry and student short stories. It’s a really wonderful creation every year. That’s definitely something that I love doing in addition to teaching my regular classes.