This edition of the Exchange features Kim McCollum-Clark, associate professor of English at Millersville since 1994.
Q: Why Millersville?
A: I actually interviewed for the position at Millersville University as “practice” (true story!). I saw the job ad at a professional conference and took it home to my spouse and my major professor to say, “See, there are jobs just like I want! And this one is even in Pennsylvania!” But I wasn’t ready to apply for positions; I had not even begun my dissertation yet. My professor said, “You should apply for practice!” I was offered the job. I was very happy about it because the position allowed me to continue “teaching English” while I was teaching teachers to teach English (if that makes any sense).
Q: Where are you originally from? Where do you live now?
A: I am from a tiny little rural town in North Carolina called Ruffin. I am the first in my family to go to college. I now live in Hempfield Township in Lancaster.
Q: Where did you attend College?
A: I graduated from Guilford College in North Carolina with a joint major in English and French. I taught high school, both subjects, in eastern North Carolina before I decided I needed to know more to become a better teacher. So I went to Penn State for my master’s in English and then my Ph.D. in English education.
Q: What is your favorite class to teach and why?
A: I really love teaching English 486, “Teaching Reading and Literature with Young Adults, Grades 7-12” (also known as the class with the longest title at MU). I love this class because it’s the “bridge” class between English and English education. It’s exciting working with future teachers who are just starting to figure out how all these things work together.
Q: How do you get your students motivated about reading and writing?
A: Part of getting students motivated about reading and writing is helping them shed all of the negative experiences and impressions they bring about both. Also, figuring out how to hand a student the perfect book.
Q: What do you want students to take away from your courses?
A: I want them to believe that reading and writing are tools for a full life and that they are both readers and writers. Narrow cultural definitions of these roles should not hold them back from making literacy a big part of their lives, whatever their goals may be. I want my English education students to see that our job as English teachers is to help our students get ready for the lives they choose for themselves and to open up their students’ visions about how reading and writing fit in with their personal goals.
Q: You teach a few secondary English education courses. How do you prepare your students to be the best English teachers they can be?
A: I try to create experiences in class that help open up the big questions about what it means to teach English and then I try to equip students with the skills, knowledge and further experiences to start to answer these questions. I say “start” advisedly because being a teacher is a lifetime journey of asking and answering questions and then learning that another set of questions lies on the other side of the answers. I am on a sabbatical leave now at Columbia Jr. /Sr. High School to be back in the day-to-day life of the teacher, to remind myself of those things. Everyday I leave with a list of questions to ponder, research and try to figure out.
Q: Did you always want to be a teacher?
A: I actually fought against the desire to be a teacher for a while in college. But, I had a dark night of the soul and realized that it was all I really wanted to do and it’s all I’ve ever done.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: “All men should strive to learn before they die what they are running from and to and why” – James Thurber.
Q: What is your favorite novel?
A: I cannot pick just one, but my favorite author is Ursula K. Le Guin, she writes science fiction and fantasy novels. She is my bar-none favorite.
Q: What made you interested in English?
A: I am completely gaga over English. I think it’s the spine of the humanities, because it’s the discipline that studies language, the spirit of human creation and written texts. I really do think that English touches on all aspects of human life and allows us to draw these disparate threads together and say, “Look at what this writer, this culture, wants to say to the rest of us about life!” English is a thing of joy to me.
Q: What is the best moment you’ve had at Millersville?
A: One of the best moments that I’ve had would have to be when I met a student in elementary education that could not pass the Praxis writing test due to her testing anxiety. She was just about to give up her dream of teaching because of that test, so I offered to tutor her at my house while I was on maternity leave with my second son, Adam. We worked together for four months on various strategies. One day, when I was not expecting her, she knocked on my door and had sneaked off to take the test – and she passed! We screamed, hollered and cried for about five minutes. I was so proud to go to her graduation and she’s been teaching elementary school for a number of years now.
Q: Who is somebody that you look up to?
A: I look up to my friends who are teachers – I call them my “teacher posse.” It’s not easy being a teacher today and they don’t just “phone it in.” They bring their best game to the classroom everyday because they know the cost. They want to shape student experience for the best everyday.
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: I have a spouse, Robert, who is a professor at Penn State University Park, our alma mater. He teaches workforce education, working with career and technical school teachers and administrators across Pennsylvania. We like to travel in the summers with our sons, Eason, age 13 and Adam, age 9.
Q: What are some interests you have outside of English and Millersville?
A: I am a huge reader of young adult literature and graphic novels. Yes, it’s part of my job, but I also love it. You can follow my reading on Goodreads.com. I made a goal to read 200 books this year and I’m on pace to meet that goal.
Q: If you could go on vacation anywhere, where would you go?
A: I visited the Theatre of Epidavros in Greece this past summer with my family. Sophocles probably watched his plays to be performed there. It’s like Mecca for a literature lover and I had to stop myself from bawling like a baby (my sons threatened to leave me if I did).
Q: If you could have dinner with any famous person (dead or alive) who would it be?
A: I would love to have dinner with the late Jim Henson, especially if Frank Oz could be there too. I am a huge fan of the Muppets and I have a letter from Frank Oz that is one of my favorite possessions. I would love to hear those two geniuses and friends talk about the early days of Sesame Street and the Muppets.