When did you first start working at WCC? What brought you here initially?
In 1979 I was completing my fourth year of teaching at Plymouth Salem H.S. I enjoyed it and still see some of my former students. While at Plymouth, I often asked the students who the good teachers were and I’d get permission to sit in on their classes. I learned an enormous amount about teaching from Math, Science, Philosophy, and History teachers as well as fellow English teachers. Then my sister, Kathleen, who was a secretary at WCC, told me I should apply. I was hired part-time. I loved WCC from the start—caring and supportive colleagues and hard-working, determined students. It was a dream job. The only problem was that I couldn’t get enough hours to make ends meet so I was forced to take a part-time position at EMU too. I taught part-time from 1980-1990, then in 1990 I was fortunate to be hired full time.
What people have inspired you both personally and professionally? Why?
That list would be exhaustive—too many amazing instructors, students, secretaries, custodians, media and IT people etc. I know I would leave out so many. I love that departmental offices are not organized by departments. Some of my closest friends have been pod-mates. Because I’m intimidated by Math, I might not have sought out Dean Jim Egan as a friend, but because his office was close to mine, we had the opportunity to talk and become good friends. I count teachers from every department here as some of my closest friends. I’ve gotten to know great teachers, such as you, through in-service workshops and by working alongside them on various committees. I’m struck by my colleagues’ high level of commitment and their desire to engage students in active learning. I’m also blessed to have had Ruth Hatcher as one of my first Dept. Heads—a brilliant teacher, but also effective leader. Carrie Krantz carries on that tradition. I’ve taken classes with many of the marvelous instructors here. I took my first Creative Writing Class with retired English instructor, Lorene Erickson. She encouraged me to send my work out for publication and we remain close friends. In Deborah Bayer’s Journal-Writing Class I learned a great deal about myself and also how to be a better teacher. She has great listening skills and elicits the best from her students. I often take non-credit writing classes with retired colleague, Dan Minock. Dan is not only a great writer, but also an inspiring teacher. I have to say that one of the best aspects of being a teacher here is being able to always learn and grow. I have friends like Maryam Barrie who have been with me since I started and so many new friends—young instructors who energize me and help me with all the new technologies .
What are some of the most exciting and rewarding times you have experienced here at WCC?
- Retired counselor extraordinaire, Diana Clark, introduced me to On-Course and I include the first workshop I attended as one of my most rewarding experiences. I learned strategies for helping my students make wise choices—strategies to help them be successful in college and in life—strategies that empower them to take responsibility for their own learning. I try to incorporate On-Course principles in my classes.
- Witnessing my students’ Self-Portrait projects in English Fundamentals, for the first time, blew me away. I realized how important it is to use writing to give people a voice—how important it is for people to tell their stories—to feel seen and heard. Sharing their self-portraits empowered them—gave them the opportunity to showcase their strengths and talents. They gained a sense of purpose and motivation that they were able to translate into improved writing. The side benefit was the sense of community in the classroom. Students were more respectful, empathetic—more willing to risk sharing and making mistakes—more willing to challenge and encourage one another.
- I am always inspired by classroom moments—aha moments for me and my students. The backgrounds of WCC students are rich and diverse. One of my most rewarding moments as a teacher was when a student, who had shared with me how he had been bullied throughout his education, came to me smiling on the last day of class and said, “This is the first class I’ve been in that I’ve made friends.”
- The success of former students is most rewarding to me. I try to bring these students back to share their successes with my current students. My students tell me that these visits/presentations are life changing. I’m so grateful to my former students. They are such an inspiration.
How did the writing center get started?
The Writing Center at WCC is a shining star. I believe it is the best WC anywhere. It is also one of the first in the country and I’m grateful to the people who had the vision to see how important a Writing Center is to the academic lives of our students. I believe the history of the WC is written up somewhere and Ruth Hatcher would be better able to answer this question, but I recall it was begun by Bill Cherniak and Bede Mitchell, Hal Weider, and many other instructors, were instrumental in its development. All full-timers contributed to the W.C. manuals and operations. Tom Zimmerman, of course, is most responsible for its current operations. He’s done such a marvelous job of making it a place where students want to be. Former students are always coming back saying, “I wish the University I attend had a W.C. like this.”
Do you write every day? What do you like to write about?
I try to write every day, though I often go for stretches when I don’t. Anything and everything can be a writing-prompt. I put “triggers” (prompts) on the blackboard at the beginning of every class I teach. These triggers may be anything from a poem, quotation from a reading, letter, essay, or newspaper article, to a cartoon, photo, or piece of music. I want students to use this quiet time to get settled and collect their thoughts, reflect on their homework, anticipate discussion topics, and/or pre-write for an essay, while I take attendance. I don’t grade or even read these. Students receive an automatic 5 points for responding. I adopted guidelines for free-writes based on Natalie Goldberg’s in Writing Down the Bones.
- Write quickly whatever pops into your head, even if you feel you are going off topic. Let the trigger take you where it wants to go.
- Keep your hand moving. Don’t pause to read what you have written and don’t cross words out. If you pause and cross words out, you are trying to control what you write. The idea here is to be free.
- Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or spelling.
- Don’t censor yourself or worry about what others might think if they read it. Your journal is for you.
- Don’t think or get logical. Let your subconscious have free reign.
- Be open to surprises even if you feel scared, shocked, or vulnerable due to where the trigger takes you.
I invite students to share their free-write responses and, ironically, even though it is not a requirement, most love to share. I think it’s because they are surprised by what comes out of them—excited by ideas they discover. Some of the best writing happens in free writes. Goldberg believes people need permission to write “shitty first drafts.” Free writes give us this permission.
What is your best advice for WCC students?
The Sufi poet Rumi once said, “Sell your cleverness; purchase bewilderment.”
Keeping an open mind is essential to learning and learning is a life-long adventure. Be present—not only physically, but mentally. I’m grateful for all the learning WCC affords me. P.S. Gratitude is the key to happiness.