General Education Literature: “Shifting Realities”

Course Description: 

Who are you when you are at home? Is it the same person you are online, with your friends, in college, or when you’re working? Are you the same person you were two years ago? Would you even want to be? 

Who we are depends upon our location, education, race, gender, sexuality, and/or the moral values we have been taught to uphold. The main theme of our course will be the idea of an identity that can change (or not) depending upon how circumstances may alter. We will consider how these shifting circumstances not only transform our main characters but also how these narratives cause us to reevaluate our own assumptions of these works. Both in the main readings and in the supporting materials, we will focus on character, motivation, setting, race, gender, and sexuality. Students will engage in close reading in order to develop strong arguments that will further their critical thinking skills. It will also be an opportunity to discuss how literary traditions are retransformed so as to present fresh commentaries on our current lives. 

The main readings for this course will be: 

• Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

• Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

• Frankenstein (1818 edition) – Mary Shelley

• The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neal Gaiman

These readings will be supported with material by James Baldwin, Gloria Anzaldúa, David Foster Wallace, Carmen Maria Machado, Danez Smith, Cathy Park Hong, and Tennessee Williams, among others. In doing so, together, we will deeply consider what it means to be a person who lives within a reality that either completely transforms or was never what we initially presumed and how that causes us to adapt to our shifting realities. 

Goals of the Course:

  • Students will use and refine their skills of reading, speaking, and writing to respond critically and thoughtfully to literary texts and other media.
  • Students, as informed readers, will recognize the influence of their individual experience on interpretation. 
  • Students will consider the connections between individual texts and broader cultural contexts and explore our contemporary moment through literature and literary history.
  • Beyond this, the course will give the students a series of interpretive tools that they will be able to carry with them throughout their lives. They will also develop an empathetic worldview through our readings, discussions, and assignments.

Course Specifics: 

This course was first taught while I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa. I was the main instructor and grader for the course. Furthermore, it is a course that I fully developed and honed during my time as a graduate student. Along with building out the syllabus, I created the essay prompts, pop quizzes, as well as the midterm and final exams. The students were also given weekly discussion posts in which they further developed their critical thinking skills. Many students would return to these ideas so as to build out in their papers. 

I worked on a 1:2 teaching load that met three times a week for fifty minutes each class. Depending on the semester, I had between 24 – 48 students total in my class. These students were all non-English majors. In my class, I predominantly had mathematics, science, and business majors. There were some non-traditional or ROTC students who were also enrolled. Since many were working students, I allowed for more flexible participation whenever the need arose.  

On a day-to-day level, the class mostly worked off of PowerPoints that contained key questions that either the class and I discussed together or the students considered in groups of four. These PowerPoints also contained specific passages that we would analyze together. However, I have about three to four classes that are mostly lecture-based, as I cover critical race theory, historical contexts, psychoanalytic theories, gender studies, or queer theory in order to present the students with ideas that they will actively be using to tackle a piece of text. 

Audio and visual media were integrated into the every day workings of the course. Specifically, I have the students watch interviews with author James Baldwin and Toni Morrison about the pressures that they felt to represent themselves in a particular way to an all-white audience. We would then discuss how the specifics of their experience tied into our broader readings on race in America. We also frequently analyzed film and television so as to dive deeper into the topics at hand. For example, in order to discuss Freud’s Oedipus Complex in relation to Frankenstein, I worked with the students to break down character relationships in the hit HBO Show Euphoria. Since I knew that this was a show the students had been watching, we had a fruitful conversation about how one could do an Oedipal reading for contemporary media while also displaying the long roots of Freud’s theories in Western thought. 

“Foundations of the English Major” (Fall 2020 and Spring 2021) 

Foundations of the English Major is just that – a foundational survey geared towards English undergraduates so that they have a comprehensive timeline of English literature. For this course, I worked closely with two separate faculty to provide a consistent level of pedagogy wherein we came up with a plan for grade norming and we discussed how to best support our students. This was particularly key as we had shifted to providing Zoom classes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Under this TA-ship, I met with twenty-four students once a week to discuss the week’s readings. Many times, I also provided additional context for the students so that they could better place that week’s readings within a broader historical timeline. For example, when discussing Black American Enslaved Spirituals, I created a lesson plan where we would talk about the long breadth of Black American music starting with Griots performing the narrative of Sunjata and ending with Sun Ra and Jay-Z. I did this so that students would recognize the lasting power of the oral tradition – particularly when enslaved peoples in America were actively excluded from being able to preserve their narrative histories by writing them. Also, while I was a TA for Foundations, I met with students to discuss their papers and graded four separate close reading assignments over the arc of the semester. The Foundations course is also meant to turn the English majors into precise close readers and essay writers. In turn, I was frequently called upon to model close reading to them in our Friday discussions.

ENGL:3287:0001 Shakespeare: Poetry, Power, and Politics on Stage (Fall 2020)

This course was offered during the Covid-19 pandemic and, as such, was held entirely over Zoom. While I was a grader for this course, I was also tasked with taking attendance and answering any questions that students might have in the chat. The instructor for this course and I met frequently to discuss the needs and expectations of the course.