MontanaHonestly no matter how you try to do it introducing yourself via blog form can become one of the ‘hardest’ things you can do. You instantly start comparing your own writing and voice to others, trying to seem just as “witty” or succinct as writers you have admired in the past — which then really just creates a two-week long form of panic-induced procrastination on a blog post that was never meant to become such a terrifying prospect.

Which is why I have decided to use the tried and true formula of seminar ice-breakers: your name, your department/field of study and one “interesting” fact about yourself. So, without further ado (and I hope no more awkwardness), here we go.

My name is Montana McLaughlin-Tom and I am a Masters student
in the English department at Carleton. I did my undergraduate degree also at Carleton in a double major of English and art history. My current field of study, or MRP (Masters Research Project) is
studying the text-image relationship within the Ellesmere edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

A fun fact about myself is that I boulder (rock climbing without the harness — no, the walls are nowhere as high as when you are in a harness), about two to three times a week.

What brought me into English was the fact that I loved reading (obviously) and that I love to look at the similarities, discontinuities or changes that are made between English and other art forms, such as art history. In my undergraduate years I realized that many of the things I studied in English also occurred in art history (just in different eras) and the relationship between these two fascinated me and I, as of yet, have not resurfaced from that road.

It is funny that while my field of chosen study — my comfort level — is the Middle Ages, yet I chose to write and teach a class that had to do with superheroes. In October of 2016 I got a forwarded email from our department secretary, originating from the Enrichment-Mini-Course Program headquarters here on campus, asking for graduate students and faculty members to submit their course proposals to become an instructor for one week in May of 2017.

Having no idea what any of that meant, I simply skipped the e-mail and continued on with my masters course load of papers, being a teachers assistant and my own research requirements. I cannot tell you what changed my mind, but I did eventually write (with the help of my faculty advisor) and submit a course proposal.

The course proposal was incredibly vague and several months later, in January, when I got an e-mail informing me that my course had been accepted — that I was intrinsically a contract instructor for one week in May to thirteen/fourteen year old kids — I could not entirely remember what it was I had intended to teach. The only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted my class to enjoy their feelings of being on a university campus, and to learn one important academic lesson that had served me well for my entire academic career so far: to look “beyond what you see” (if any of you got that reference, fifty points to your house of choice).

Learn to look “beyond what you see” – Montana

When I was in my second year, I took a course that changed how I approached books forever. The instructor (who became my faculty advisor while I was an instructor with EMCP) stressed for an entire year the importance of looking beyond the history surrounding a novel, to the movements behind it, the things it influenced, the disciplines it discussed, etc. Learning to think outside the box in that way made my life as a double major unbelievably easier, and it was a lesson I wanted to teach to high school kids as I hoped it would help them realize that English as a field of study was far richer than they would ever consider.

The problem was that I needed a vehicle for this transcendence, and it could not be through novels as the class would be doing homework from their original schools that entire week. Through a few several hour long talks
with my faculty advisor, I was able to narrow down my “field of study”, or point of reference, to Marvel’s The Avengers. I would study the origins, changes and trajectory of these heroes with the hopes of showing my class how to make the leap from book/comic/movie to real life. This then became my second goal for the week of the course: to have them start to look for parallels outside of the obvious.

With my two goals in mind, I then set about for the next four months to research and create lessons based off of this plan. My faculty advisor and I had decided that I would be the sole instructor for the week — this is not required as quite a few courses were taught by two graduate students, or a graduate student and their faculty advisor — but I had been a senior high camp counsellor before and was confident that I could handle controlling a classroom while lecturing to them, and my faculty advisor agreed.

Being an instructor for EMCP is no easy task, I was to be in my classroom and teach from 9am – 3pm every day with only a “for sure” one hour lunch break (other breaks were up to my discretion), so I would heavily caution someone who is considering becoming an instructor to seriously think about whether or not you can handle up to twenty-two 13-14 year old teenagers for that long of a time period, consistently, for a week.

That is not to say that I was not nervous or worried about how I would be able to handle the class — but my anxiety was more related to the intellectual/knowledge base of the course rather than crowd control.

The orientation (Sunday) before class started (it started Monday morning), was when this anxiety began to slowly die. I met the majority of my students, their parents and was able to talk with them, answer questions and also on a subconscious level, get my own fears soothed as well. The parents were not waiting to tear me down for only being a graduate student, and the majority of my students seemed genuinely pleased to be there, even if my course was not their first choice. The hour-long session went by quickly and I have to say that at the end of it, I was more than confident that I would be able to handle the week relatively easily; which then allowed my week to begin and stay, optimistic throughout the whole week.

Banner Photo: Copyright belongs to marvelousRoland, Flickr, The Avengers Movie Art. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

2 thoughts on “Montana’s Blog – An Introduction”

  1. Tom Sherwood says:

    Thanks for this. I would be anxious about recommending the EMCP possibility to grad students, especially the ones in our 3-term RELI MA. But your narrative of your own experience, plus the idea that 2 students might share leadership helps. I think it could be a very positive experience and career development for the right person — like you. Best wishes.

  2. Catherine Khordoc says:

    Loved reading your blog, Montana! What a great start! I remember taking a mini course, at Carleton, many, many decades ago. I think I would have loved your course! I look forward to the next blog entries.

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