Faculty in Action
Professor of Literature
B.A., Nazareth College of Rochester NY
M.A., York University, Toronto, Canada
PhD, University of Notre Dame, IN
I am teaching: Chaucer to Shakespeare, Great Plays: History of Drama 1, Great Plays: History of Drama 2
Areas of expertise: Renaissance/Early Modern English Literature, Shakespeare, History of the Drama (ancient Greek to contemporary), Children's Literature, Literature and the Law
Current research/projects: Offering Seminars for Federal Judges; revising an edition of a book on Joyce I published some time ago, and writing articles on teaching
Why did you decide to become a college professor?
In part because I had two wonderful teachers and one really horrible teacher myself in college. In part because I saw women role models all through my college education, at a time when this was rare. And in part because I prepared for high school teaching and certification, but fell in love with the chance to work with ideas on a different level in college teaching.
What do you enjoy most about teaching at Eckerd?
Freedom to try things out and the support from the administration to be a really good teacher. Students who are willing to be coaxed along and nudged to learn—some becoming genuinely excited! Students who are collaborative (even though they can compete very well), who have a sense of humor, and who are in college for the right reason (learning) as well as for some of the other reasons.
How would you describe Eckerd students?
I guess this has already leaked in, above. I find them affable, informal, somewhat laid back, but not in a way that keeps them from wanting to learn and develop. I just met with a prospective student who came for a visit because of a friend. She talked about our students as welcoming, congenial, accepting, yet willing to be challenged, and to get what they're paying for in terms of learning. I think she's right on.
What makes Eckerd so special or why does it stand out to you as a great college?
The resilience of this little, young place is amazing. We have the spirit to get by the bumps colleges have been having recently—much as we've done in the past. We are a miracle of pleasing contradictions:
- innovative, and yet among the youngest colleges to have gained a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, a major recognition for traditional excellence
- our style may be laid back, but we have the intensity to lead students to genuine depth in substance
- we have structures, but they're flexible enough to respond to substantiated individual needs, creative adaptation, and whole re-conceptualization
- we have flexibility, and yet we fiercely hold to the ideals of the past where they are part of our identity and mission
- we have lots of people (faculty, staff, students) who are willing to talk, to imagine together, to welcome ideas and other people, and to work harder than I've seen elsewhere--for the common good, not only for the individual's advancement: there's a genuine sense of service here toward a mutual mission that deserves the best we can give
What is the best thing a student has ever said in your class?
Excellent student speaking to weaker student: "Your diagram and explanation of the structure of that play caused me to see something I had never noticed, and wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't shown me. That was awesome."
How do you describe your teaching style?
Eclectic: something for everyone. I hate boring people, so I try to structure my classes so that there is plenty for everyone to learn. I talk, invite questions and responses, explain, define, very often diagram or draw pictures on the board (not usually very good ones, I might add). Often I include in-class assignments that involve brief student writing that is shared in small groups and then with the class as a whole. Sometimes I ask for summaries of the reading before we discuss, or ask a group to stage a part of our reading assignment. (Just yesterday five students had five minutes to stage the Dumb Show in Hamlet for the class, before I introduced the concept of "metatheatre" in Shakespeare.
My classes are usually discussion-oriented (including lots of back-and-forth with and among students) peppered with mini-lectures. In higher-level classes I set things up far more like seminars, with more of my input at the beginning (to model, set standards), and more student presentation and input as we move through the course.
How do you encourage your students to think outside?
Usually in literature courses this must be done indirectly:
- While we do have to read and write, I encourage students to read aloud, OUTSIDE, under a tree if it's going to disturb their roommate (something that can be done year round in Florida).
- I have students draw diagrams and pictures of our readings, or bring in props that symbolize an aspect of the work we're reading, or their response to it.
Often, however, I do this directly:
- We attend theatre events—a wonderful way to make drama come alive (ECOS helps underwrite these)
- I serve food that connects with the learning—for instance, when we read Pope's "Rape of the Lock" we have a coffee-house-and-pastries class, since that poem has an important coffee scene; we often have food from earlier eras—to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday out on the quad, for instance: I bring the authentic food, students perform brief scenes (including memorizing the lines)
- When I teach Children's Literature, a major requirement is that students make a children's picture book—write it, illustrate it, and execute layout and design.
- When I teach Literature and Law, we spend two or three days in local courts: federal court, appeals court, and family or juvenile court, coordinated with readings about trial by jury or revenge or juvenile justice. The judges and lawyers always take time with students after the case load for the day, to brief, de-brief and chat generally about their profession.
What else should we know about you or what else would you like to share?
We value teaching so much here at Eckerd that, aside from often talking about it incidentally with one another, faculty get together once a month for a Teaching/Learning conversation (TLC) that I help direct. About a third of the faculty shows up every month, totally voluntarily, to discuss everything from specific teaching techniques to issues of national importance such as grade inflation, or the current situation of the liberal arts college.