about the teacher
Born and raised in the small midwestern city of Taylorville, I grew up absorbed in my own imagination: reading all the fantasy stories I could get my hands on, watching all of the adventure movies that came through the local theater, and trying my own hand at the craft of storytelling...as evidenced by a bedroom cluttered with spiral notebooks containing dozens of half-finished stories. It was good that my interests lay in the creative sphere, as there was never much else to do in a city surrounded on all sides by undulating vistas of cornfields. My love for Star Wars movies, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Disney animated classics inspired me to become a filmmaker, and I made it all the way to my senior year of high school in possession of some vague notion that I would probably go to film school. A handful of circumstances, however, dissuaded me from that notion. First, I grew frustrated that my amateur attempts at filming were constantly thwarted due to unreliable/unmotivated actors (which, in retrospect, is entirely understandable...after all, the casts consisted entirely of my unpaid circle of friends who had nothing else to do on the weekends). At the same time, my imagination was beginning to be captured not by movies, but by literature.
I had always been an avid reader, but I now began to read not just with an eye toward entertainment, but toward emulation. Literature appealed to me over movies in that the creator was limited by nothing except their own imagination...and their grasp of the English language. Actors, props, CGI budgets...what mattered these to a novelist? I began to study how to paint the perfect scene in my readers' minds, how to write smooth-flowing and natural dialogue, how to structure a story so that all the elements came together into a harmonious whole. And the more I wrote, the more I read; these two loves nurtured each other and led me to the determination of seeking a degree in English studies. I attended the University of Illinois in Springfield, which was conveniently only a thirty minute drive or so from home, and for years I was kept pleasurably busy with readings both required by coursework as well as wherever my inclination led. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Victor Hugo became as familiar friends to me as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had been (and still are). I earned my Bachelor's in English, and then stayed on for my Master's as well. All the while, I continued with my own writing and eventually produced a novel that I believed was at least worth a publisher's passing glance. After a year or so of failing to solicit the attention of either a literary agent or a publisher, I determined to start my own publishing company, CirrusPress. The company is still in existence (as is the novel) although the anticipated release date for the latter is forthcoming...though I can only hope not indefinitely.
During this time, I worked as a substitute teacher at all grade levels in the various local school districts, as well as an independent tutor and a graduate assistant. I have also put on puppet shows for kindergarten classrooms, and started a YouTube channel on which I (admittedly infrequently) upload mini-lectures on Shakespeare's plays and other great books. Since then, I have worked as an adjunct English instructor at the University of Illinois, alongside my old professors. My students have been mostly freshman, and my courses include Critical Reading, Rhetoric and College Writing, and College Writing and Civic Engagement. These courses all have a heavy emphasis on rhetoric and composition, as well as research writing.
As for hobbies...did I mention that I read a lot? Aside from that, I enjoy cycling on the 15-mile bike trail that cuts through many of those aforementioned cornfields, as well as playing chess and backgammon with friends at the local pizza restaurant where I used to work as a busboy.
To undertake the task of teaching is no small thing. I believe that it requires someone with a very specific personality and outlook on life. At the risk of sounding grandiose, it is more of a calling than a career, and for those who profess the Christian faith, it is a duty. "And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Timothy 2:24-25a). Regardless of the subject, a poor teacher with little patience and no sense of purpose in their own vocation can turn a student away from that subject forever. I begin every class I have taught by encouraging my students to question, "So What?" of any topic we might be covering. It can be a nerve-wracking question sometimes, but it is one that is equally important for both the teacher to be able to answer and for the student to assure themselves of. The teacher must believe that what they are doing has value, has meaning, and the student must be convinced that their time in the classroom is well-spent.
My answer to such a question (especially in regard to humanities courses) invariably comes back to the same idea. It's not just about teaching the texts, it's about a type of self-betterment: the growth of the student's worldview and critical thinking skills, as well as a deeper appreciation for the common heritage that they share with the great thinkers and writers of the past. Great literature shows us the heights and the depths of the human soul from enough of a distance to be able to reflect rationally upon what we have witnessed. Composition enables us to crystalize our wayward thoughts and see them laid out in an orderly fashion, as well as to express our desires to others without resorting to brute force; as the critic Wayne Booth says, "The only real alternative to rhetoric is war."
I can only hope that, even on bad days, my teaching style reflects the seriousness with which I take the profession. But how is one to instill this sense of importance in the students? It was my high school English teacher who inspired me to want to teach, and to this day my teaching philosophy largely strives to accomplish in my students what his lectures accomplished in me: he made these strange, seemingly inaccessible texts relevant to our daily lives. In his classroom, Beowulf and Macbeth became living personalities in which I and many other students recognized a shocking resemblance to ourselves and our relatively mundane struggles. Reading great works of literature never felt like homework...it was entertaining, and it felt like growth. I also try to emulate his habit of responding to student writing with earnest engagement, so that the students feel that their instructor is taking what they have to say seriously, and that they are making unique contributions to the class' undertaking of whatever text is being discussed.
One of my greatest enjoyments of teaching is when a student writes an essay or makes a comment that makes me see a treasured novel or a familiar topic in an entirely new light. It is then that I know that the student thought about the text and made it their own, and also that my understanding of the text has deepened as well.
Statement of Faith
Though I grew up in a nominally Christian household with a belief in God, the resurrection of Christ, heaven, and hell, I do not believe that I became a truly born-again Christian until around the time I was twelve or thirteen years old. And after that, I do not believe that I became serious about my faith until I was twenty-three. The ten-year gap was mostly spent worrying about the things that teenagers tend to worry about, and it was only when I began attending college that I started to earnestly search for the reasons as to why I believed what I professed to believe, which led me to the study of apologetics. At the same time, a better understanding of my own sinful nature (and that I wasn't really the "pretty good person" I had always presupposed myself to be) led me to a deeper understanding of my relationship to God and of why the substitutionary death of Christ was so necessary for me to be accepted of God. Since then, time spent in prayer and reading the Bible has become an integral part of my daily routine. Although I attend a local nondenominational church (Taylorville Christian Church) and consider myself a nondenominational Christian (I have long held concerns that to align oneself with one particular group approximates the "Apollos vs. Paul" controversy of 1 Corinthians) I have found that my personal beliefs most closely resemble those of Baptist denominations. Below is my statement of faith regarding what I would consider to be essential doctrines;
I believe that the Eternal God created all things by Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:9) in the beginning of time (John 1:1-3); that God created mankind in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27) and that through experience of the created world man could come to know God (Romans 1:20-21). However, by the transgression of Adam sin entered into the world (Romans 5:12) and all of mankind are dead in trespasses and sin (Romans 3:10-12).
I believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), in order to free mankind from the wages of sin and save us by grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:1-9) in his death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4); that through acceptance of Jesus Christ as one's personal savior and asking for the forgiveness of one's sins (Romans 10:9-10), we can know that we have eternal life (John 3:16). I believe that after salvation, the Christian is eternally secure (Ephesians 1:13 & 4:30) through God's grace, not by any works of righteousness that man can do (Titus 3:5).
I believe in the nature of the triune Godhead of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Ghost (1 John 5:7); that these three are separate, yet equal in power and authority (Colossians 2:9).
I believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired, perfectly preserved word of God (Psalm 12:6-7) and is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice for Christians today (2 Timothy 3:15). It is through scripture that we can learn about God and his purpose for us, as well as be assured of our salvation through Jesus Christ (1 John 5:10-13).
I'm almost surely leaving something out, so perhaps it would be best to say in summation that I'm confident my beliefs accord with both the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds, as well as Church thought throughout the centuries.