From English student to English Language Arts Teacher
"...the English Department offered a wide array of interesting and challenging courses. The program not only offered a diverse range of literature courses, but also creative writing, which was something that really appealed to me."
A Q & A with Courtney Foll '14, discussing life in grad school at SUNY Cortland and teaching at Donovan Middle School.
Q: Can you talk about why you chose to major in English at UC?
A: Of course! When it came to choosing an undergraduate program at Utica College, the English Department offered a wide array of interesting and challenging courses. The program not only offered a diverse range of literature courses, but also creative writing, which was something that really appealed to me. As a minor, I chose Adolescent Education. With my major and minor combined, I was well on my way to achieving my dream of becoming a secondary English Language Arts teacher.
Q: In what ways do you think your undergraduate studies helped you to achieve this goal?
A: Once I became comfortable at UC (thanks to the supportive faculty and school environment) everything fell into place. I wrote a short story that was published in Ampersand; I became a member of Sigma Tau Delta (International English Society) and Kappa Delta Pi (International Honor Society in Education); I met a lot of outstanding intellectuals; and I also successfully completed Student Teaching. Before I knew it, the crowd was roaring as I walked across the stage to accept my Bachelor of Arts Degree, and my years as an undergraduate student were quickly coming to an end. With the continued help of my English and Education professors, I was accepted into graduate school and I also landed a full time job as an English Language Arts teacher.
Q: Congratulations again! I’m sure a lot of our students are trying to make plans for their lives after UC. Can you talk about what has kept you most busy since graduating?
A: Currently, I attend graduate school at SUNY Cortland, while earning a Master’s degree in Literacy Education. I also teach full time – 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts classes at Donovan Middle School here in Utica.
Q: And what has been the biggest change from undergrad to life post-grad?
A: Well, I think I have two answers for that. The most challenging part of my Master’s program is receiving an assignment with a firm page limit. My writing tends to be extremely verbose. My current professors are doing their best to help me maneuver this habit. For example, this past semester I successfully took a 17-page paper and revised it down to 12-pages. I just made the page limit, of 10-12 pages, and received an A while doing so.
When it comes to teaching, my obsession with symbolism (that I’m sure my profs at UC will remember!) is intense and overwhelming. I once gave a 45-minute lesson on the symbolism behind the color green in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Believe it or not, some of my students were very interested in the lesson. Others spent their time posting numerous tweets followed by #englishclassproblems. Little do they know, I appreciate it when they utilize social media to write about their feelings, because they are engaging in reading and writing without even realizing what they are doing. #englishteacherwin.
Q: Any last words of advice for students approaching graduation?
A: I would definitely encourage students who are contemplating graduate school to just apply! I remember being extremely nervous about the process, but I have loved the experience. I think the best part about perusing my Master’s degree is continuing to learn about and analyze the two activities I value most: reading and writing. Working on both sides of the desk has also provided me with the opportunity to connect with my students and professors on a deeper level. Teaching students to read and appreciate literature is such important work, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
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