Attending the AAC&U conference as a Cross Scholar has been an inspiring and instructive experience, as well as a great honour. It’s especially cheering to meet so many people optimistic about the future of tertiary education, and excited about the role of dedicated undergraduate teaching in that future. Like my fellow Cross Scholars, I’ve been fortunate to have combined teaching and research throughout my graduate career, and have benefited greatly from this combination.
My tertiary teaching work began at the University of Melbourne, and included gothic fiction of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, early film, Old English poetry, Chaucer, medieval romance and romantic poetry. At Melbourne and later at Oxford, I led reading groups on various medieval languages, and in these informal settings gained valuable experience working with diverse groups of learners. I’ve been particularly lucky in the teacher training support available to me: help and mentoring from amazing faculty members like Professor Stephanie Trigg at the University of Melbourne, instruction workshops as part of Yale’s Certificate of College Teaching Preparation, and several graduate subjects in pedagogy.
I’m currently a doctoral candidate at Yale University, with a research focus on medieval English. My dissertation examines intersections of law and literature from Old to Early Modern English; over the past few years, I’ve published work on the Old English Advent Lyrics and the vocabulary of Beowulf, and am working on projects in late medieval paleography, early medieval emotional vocabulary, and the pronoun choices of Jonathan Swift. A common thread in all my research and teaching is a fascination with the complexities and potentials of language. I’m also intrigued by the possibilities that the digital platform offers to integrate the artefacts of written culture into the teaching of language history, and have recently taken up a research post in a project that aims to develop digital teaching resources using the materials in Yale’s Beinecke library.
At Yale, I began my teaching with an undergraduate creative writing class, and last year developed and taught an intensive writing seminar on the theme “Fantasy Worlds”, in which essay writing drills were cunningly hidden behind Disney movies. I’ve also had great fun giving guest seminars, which have been an important way to get feedback on teaching strategies. Reading groups at Yale have been richly rewarding too: in these I present on Old English and Old Norse language and grammar, but always end up learning far more than I teach.
The experience of university education has convinced me that three things are necessary for really great teaching: a deep knowledge of one’s field, the conviction that this knowledge is worthwhile, and an urgent desire to share it with others. There is, I’ve also discovered, a great deal of hard work involved in combining the roles of researcher, teacher, and sympathetic supporter of learning; but it’s all fully compensated for by the fact that an undergraduate once called my description of the Old English weak adjective “fascinating”, and seemed to mean it.