How long have you been teaching at Tech?
Since 1977. So that’s 41 years. None of the students had typewriters [back then] much less computers so all of the essays were written longhand and I had to read them. I got very good at cryptoanalysis. They had only 50 minutes or an hour and 20 minutes to write, and it was totally unfair to them because if they weren’t already good writers, there was nothing in the way we taught English at that time to help them to write better. You could ask them to come into your office, but students are not going to do that. We’ve improved our system since then, and the technology has improved. When I taught the first science fiction and fantasy class, I had to beg the AV department to get me actual film versions of the films to play. Now, we slip the DVD into the computer and Shazam.! Lots and lots of change. When I first got here, there were 2,500 students and now we’re close to 12,000 students, worldwide. That’s a huge difference, especially in the parking.
Why did you choose Tech?
I chose Tech because, at the time, they offered me the most competitive salary and because I wanted to come to a state that was less urbanized, that would have wide open spaces for me to buy land, hike, ride horses, hunt, whatever. Arkansas is a natural state and it really has a lot to offer. I grew up in a city, Buffalo, New York. I really wanted a change from that. I enjoy Arkansas.
What led you to teaching?
It’s a profession that enables me to use my love of humanities. It’s all one thing. You know, literature and history are all one thing. If I teach Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, I teach the historical context.
What are your base classes you teach every year, if you have them?
Intro to Film for sure. Usually one web-based section of Methods of Teaching English as a Second Language. Technical Writing, and usually some form of Creative Writing, such as screenwriting or writing historical fiction.
What led you to choose your field of study? I was always good at English – which is to say, reading and writing. Consequently, I did well in English classes throughout public school and also throughout college and graduate school. All along the way, I had teachers who encouraged me to continue in an English major, so I followed their advice.
What is your most embarrassing teaching story?
Like most teachers, I typically graded essays with red ink, indicating errors in spelling and grammar and making comments in the margins and at the end of the essay. I had handed back a set of essays to a comp class, and one young lady exclaimed, “My God, it looks like you deflowered a virgin on my paper!” I switched to blue ink after that.
What is your biggest pet peeve in the classroom besides cell phone usage?
Students who talk to each other during class, especially while I’m lecturing or showing a film.
Did you consider yourself a good student in college?
Like most students, I felt I was a good student in my major courses and any other courses that I was truly interested in, such as history, psychology, and anthropology. I graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, so I suppose I did well enough.
Who inspires you the most?
Hmm . . . There’s quite a list but let me give credit to my high school English teacher, Mrs. Mildred Meese, who praised and encouraged my writing. But as a writer, I’ve also found inspiration in Mother Teresa’s Paradoxical Beatitudes, especially “What you spend years creating, others may destroy overnight. Create anyway.”
Who’s your favorite film director/author?
Again, a difficult question to narrow down, since there are so many. I’m a major fan of the Goldman brothers, James and William. And I highly respect the Coen brothers. As for favorite authors in general, I’d vote for Robert Heinlein and George Macdonald Fraser.
If you could have any pet besides a dog or a cat, what would you choose? Why?
I currently cohabitate with a dog and a cat, and two horses live in the pasture beside my house. If I were going to choose another pet, it would be a tossup between a cheetah and a raptor. Both are predators, and both are graceful and beautiful.