KCC Faculty on Teaching
Q&A with Jonathan Holley | ENGLISH
How did you get into teaching?
Friends, family, and colleagues occasionally suggested that I should teach because they thought I was patient and had a knack for explaining things clearly. When a long-term temp position ended, I decided to explore teaching.
What career did you imagine for yourself when you were in college?
In high school, I wanted to be an opera singer. I sang with a number of small companies; had a holiday church job that lasted over a decade; and have sung at numerous weddings, funerals, and occasional church events. As an opera singer, I have performed in a dozen countries in North & Central America and Europe, including Bregenz, Austria, as part of the ensemble of a production of Porgy and Bess for two summers. I still sing, performing as recently as this summer, in the Lincoln Center “Summer for the City” series, under the auspices of composer Toshi Reagon.
What do you love about teaching?
I love using my favorite books, TV series, and films as texts to explore the social issues at the heart of my courses. My master’s thesis centered on Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, and The Crucible and I have used each of these texts in courses ranging from developmental to literature. When I used Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in a developmental course, a fan of the series sought me out, wanting to take an upper-level course with me.
What’s your favorite teaching experience?
I love group projects that challenge students to display talents that would otherwise remain hidden. For oral presentations, students have written skits, produced videos, and recited original poetry. In a mock trial, the opposing counsels once became so engrossed in their roles I thought they might come to blows. Afterwards, they sat talking as though they were old friends. Two students once reenacted a murder for a presentation and a woman passing by shouted out, thinking the guy was about to bludgeon the girl to death. (My class was being observed that day and the observer could not contain her enthusiasm for what she had experienced.)
In what ways do you bring your professional experience into the classroom?
Because of my background in music, theater, and languages, I sometimes spontaneously burst out in song, dance, or a foreign language, just to shake things up a bit. Teaching and singing both require practice and preparation to give a performance that appears spontaneous.
What advice do you have for current students?
Plan ahead. English courses always require a significant amount of reading and writing. The latter, however, is a painstaking process requiring time for drafting, reflecting, reviewing, revising, and editing. Yet, students often prioritize their other coursework, underestimate the time needed to produce effective writing, and leave their essays till the last possible minute. The first draft should always be for the student’s eyes only. It is only after the student has revisited the work with fresh eyes that it should be submitted to the instructor; however, that cannot happen if you wait until the last minute to begin working.