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What sparked your interest in teaching?
Well, other than the fact that, really, I just fell backward into it, ironically what most motivated me to teach was how much I despised my own education. Most of my life I didn’t think I’d pursue education; at many points in my life I’ve found myself disillusioned with the academy, and the overall commodification of learning. However, within that pessimism, I was never without at least one educator who stood out against that backdrop, and who knew how to guide me through it. I have no doubt that without those people — most of them English teachers – I would still be adrift.
My education was hard won. I think it kind of has to be in some aspects, or else it wouldn’t be worth it, but there are far too many ways in which it is unnecessarily difficult. I have learned over time that I have the ability, and the motivation to fight the kinds of things that made my own education so unpleasant. It’s not supposed to be easy, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as they make it. I want my students to understand that.
What skill do you find the most satisfying to teach in English?
Writing – all kinds – is my favourite without a doubt. There was an odd little book published in ’76, The Origins of Consciousness by Julian Jaynes. I’ll give you the Sparknotes version. Essentially Jaynes claimed that before the invention of writing, human beings couldn’t truly be considered conscious, but instead would hear our thoughts as if they were some disembodied “voice of god”. Now, of course the whole thing’s been pretty thoroughly debunked, but I love that idea as a metaphor for the importance of writing as skill, or really at the core of it, the ability to express one’s thoughts effectively. Without that ability, we cannot reasonably call ourselves conscious, or at least, we can’t say we’re doing anything meaningful with it.
How do you cultivate a love or appreciation for literature in your students?
Loving literature does not mean loving all literature. It’ll probably offend a lot of my students to say this, but I cannot stand Harry Potter. That doesn’t detract one single bit from my love of reading though. One of the great perks of this job is how well I get to know each of my students. Each of them has their own unique and nuanced opinions on literature. The privilege of that knowledge, with the benefits of my education and experience, gives me an incredible opportunity to help my students find things they’ll actually enjoy reading. Nietzsche’s not for everyone, for example, but every now and then you meet some nihilistic teenager with a great sense of humour, and you have a match made in heaven.
What is your favourite poem and why?
Suicide by Louis Aragon. It’s been hanging on my wall since I was eighteen, and it’s been tattooed on my arm since I was twenty-five. I love it simply because it spits on convention. A lot of people argue it’s not really a poem at all; it’s just the alphabet, but for me, it is all at once completely bursting with meaning and utter gibberish. Like all great writing, it skirts that line with skill. I try to fit in that narrow space too, as best I can.
What makes tutoring at BB unique?
The community. Donna Haraway said that community should be organized around affinity, not identity. We are all so very different here, but we’re strong together, we’re on the same team, and we’re all striving together, students and staff, for the same basic thing: education, in the purest meaning of that word. That’s why it works, and that’s why it’s worth it.