This week's Featured Teacher, Kim Donehower, is an Associate Professor of English at UND and former director of RRVWP. She completed Summer Institute in 1999. Kim shared the following responses to my interview questions about her experiences with teaching, reading, and writing:
What are you currently reading?
The Rise of Writing, by Deborah Brandt. It’s a fascinating look at the fact that writing is starting to eclipse reading as a preferred activity for many people, especially young people. The book raises all kinds of interesting questions for teachers: What do we do with students who like to write but may not like to read? Can someone become a good writer without extensive reading? Are some of our students doing all kinds of writing outside of the classroom that we don’t know about, and if so, how could we recruit their skills and interests into the classroom? Or should we?
Why do you read?
I do two kinds of reading: reading something to teach it or write about it, and reading just to read. The second kind is incredibly important to my sanity! I think we all need activities that we do just because we want to do them, and not towards any larger goal. I love the rare chance to lose myself for a couple of hours in reading something that’s really engaging, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.
What do you write outside the classroom?
My outside-the-classroom writing is mostly academic: essays and conference papers. But recently, I’ve started to experiment with infusing personal writing and some journalistic style into my academic pieces. It has been such a relief to start to put more personality into the “official” writing that I do. And I think most people would much rather read or listen to those kinds of pieces, too.
Do any of your writing philosophies/interests translate to your teaching?
I have started to encourage my students to experiment with blending different genres, getting some research into their personal pieces and some personality and creativity into their academic writing. While every school genre has certain expectations attached to it, I think there is some wiggle room—once the requirements of a piece of writing have been met—to experiment with style, arrangement, and rhetorical strategies.
Who encouraged you to be a teacher?
I don’t remember anyone encouraging me to be a teacher. The assumption in my school seemed to be that the “smart kids” would become doctors or lawyers, as though those were the only options. But I certainly had English teachers I loved—particularly Mrs. Lucy Ross, grammar and style maven, who was both the toughest teacher I ever had and still the one most beloved by my schoolmates, thirty-five years later. She cultivated my delight in playing with language, from vocabulary to syntax to rhythm and rhyme. And she herself was so creative in her teaching—she composed songs to help us remember grammar rules, and invented all kinds of classroom games—that she was always modeling for me what a creative profession teaching can be.