Tag Archives: Teaching

Pat Grabill: A Love for the Written Word

Pat Grabill graduated from Ball State with an MA in English in 1968 and pursued a teaching career for 30 years. After retiring from teaching in 2004, she worked as a technical writer for Precisely Write in Indianapolis and also became President of the Watercolor Society of Indiana, where she made use of her English skills and her love of art to promote painting in Indiana.

preview-full-unnamedWhy English?

I’ve always been a good student. Not a great student—although I have had some great moments—but a good student. When I graduated from high school in 1961 (yes, I’m old), I really wanted to go to college, but my dad wasn’t sure. So he picked my school—Purdue—a great choice for me, as it turned out, and he also picked my major, elementary education. Not a good choice. I would have been a barely adequate elementary teacher, so I changed my major to Secondary Education/English. I graduated four years later with many, many semester hours in literature, writing, linguistics, and rhetoric and went on to spend 30 classroom years mostly at the high school level. I retired in 2004 having taught all secondary grade levels and loving it. While my undergrad degree was at Purdue (Boiler Up!), I studied for my MA degree at Ball State (Go, Cardinals!)  I taught freshman comp in the BSU English department as a TA while doing my own course work. I wrote my Master’s paper on “The Myth of the West in Steinbeck’s Fiction.” I remember it well. I wish I still had my copy. I had some great teachers at Purdue and at Ball State, and I am grateful for the time they took with me.

Why major in English? 

You’ll know more than most people doing crossword puzzles. (A flippant response, I know). You will understand allusions to literature in ordinary conversation, news, plays, movies – conversations that people who are not avid readers may not get. But most importantly — and this is VERY important — you will learn to read critically and write clearly. You will have to read great books, short stories, poetry — all genres — and you will LOVE reading them. You will write — and you will become very good at it, too. Your speech and your writing will become more persuasive, and via your communication skills, you will become a leader. Your parents want to know what you’ll do with an English major, and the easy answer is that you will become language literate in a society that lacks many of those skills. That ability can be money in the bank in this culture where we write MORE than before, both because of and in spite of technology. It’s also true that an English major is great preparation for law school or for many graduate programs. There are also many opportunities in areas of corporate and non-profit communication given technology experience. My advice to you: take all the writing classes you can. You’re already a reader, or you wouldn’t even consider becoming an English major, so become a first-rate writer, too. Learn the concept of audience. Learn to be persuasive. Learn to love the language and to use it correctly.

While I loved teaching, after I retired I went to work as a technical writer.  My job was to write for and edit user Help files for a medical document written by a major pharmaceutical company. Our team’s job was to look at the plan for the program and, from that plan, write user-friendly Help files. It WAS an adventure, to say the least. I received a generous hourly wage, met some really good people, visited often with the software engineers, and learned a great deal about the very specific requirements for tech writing as opposed to regular writing. I’ve also been responsible for writing newsletters for one business and writing and editing for a not-for-profit organization, The Watercolor Society of Indiana, where I am a Board member.

Some years after getting my MA at Ball State, I again attended Ball State as a participant in the Indiana Writing Project, which was life-changing for me as a teacher. Finishing my MA did not finish my participation in learning more. I went on to take 30 hours past my MA simply because I wanted to learn new “stuff.” I applied for an Eli Lilly Teacher Creativity Grant at the end of the 90s because I wanted to study connections between writing and painting, and Lilly gave me $5,000 to spend during the summer on anything I wanted to do to enhance my knowledge of the written story and the painted story. That summer changed my life, too, because I have continued to be a painter. I have a studio in my home, and right now have three different paintings in process and some sketches I’m also working on. I am a past president of the Watercolor Society of Indiana (we have a Facebook page), and currently am Board secretary.

Finally, in answer to the question I posed in the title, “Why English”? My answer is, why NOT English? If you love the language and you love the written word, and you love writing and want to become better at it than you already are, major in English. If you’re good at it, do it. You’ll find a job, and maybe it will even be a job you like.

Tara Olivero: Teacher at Homestead High School and Writer at Book Riot

Tara Olivero is a teacher at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne and a contributing writer at Book Riot. She graduated from Ball State in 2014 with a degree in English Education. In this post, she discusses her job as a high school English teacher and how her time at #bsuenglish helped her find her passion for teaching.

How would you describe your job?

My main career will always be my teaching career – I’m in my third year of teaching in Fort Wayne at Homestead High School. As any other high school teacher knows, it’s an exhausting job but one that’s personally satisfying beyond all compare. I also have two side-gigs outside of teaching. I’m a contributor at Book Riot, which I really love because it gives me a platform for my own writing. And my “purely for fun” job is that I work at an Escape Room in Fort Wayne on the weekends; I also write blog posts for the Escape Room’s website.

What’s a typical work day like for you?

I usually try to get to school between 6 and 6:30, so I can set up all the documents I need and make copies for students who have laptop issues. That’s when I don’t oversleep, of course. I teach five classes of freshman high school English, where we do the standard reading/writing you’d expect. I also teach one class of juniors and seniors in Film Literature, Tara Oliverowhich is essentially how to write thoughtful and critical analysis of films. After school, I’m usually still there until 4 or 5, either running one of the clubs I sponsor (including the school’s Creative Writing Club) or helping the theatre department with costuming. At the end of the day, I’ll finally head home to grade papers, work on my current Book Riot pieces, or pet my cat.

How did your English major affect your career path?

I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have the teaching position I have today without an English major. One of the strengths I bring to the table in terms of serving my students IS my English content knowledge. While I’m always trying to work on improving my teaching strategies, inclusion of technology, etc., I know I never have to worry that I’m not hitting at the heart of the books we read in my classes and the structure and content of the essays my students write.

When I was student teaching, I was overwhelmed with the experience, too. I didn’t realize how stressful it would be until I was already in it, but I knew that I wanted to teach English more than anything. I was armed with so much knowledge from my English classes, and I knew how painful it was to be in non-English classes at Ball State and see that writing was something that plenty of other students desperately needed to work on. All of that made me want to teach English even more. Reading comprehension, critical analysis, and the ability to put that comprehension and analysis into words are some of the most important skills high school students need to master, so I’m honored to have a part in that now.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

The English Department did a bang-up job helping me hone my analytical writing skills. Until I started teaching Film Lit, I didn’t realize how helpful it was that I can actually write well. I’m able to show my students examples of my own analytical writing that they can use as models for specific tasks, which is nice.

The instruction I received in my writing classes also helped me hone my style and build my confidence in my own writing. The voice present in my writing and my passion for literature, both of which grew throughout my time as an undergraduate, helped me land a spot as a Book Riot contributor. For the longest time in college, I was a “quasi” book blogger; I ran a YA book blog but didn’t interact much with the blogosphere because I was intimidated. I feel like I can run with that crowd now and not feel inadequate, which is partially because all of the Book Riot people are lovely individuals and partly because I know I’m now a decent writer when I put in the time and care about what I’m writing.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

The young adult literature class impacted both the way I teach English, especially the way I run the student-chosen summer reading activities in class in the fall, and my experience writing for Book Riot as a critical reader of YA fiction. The ideas that were covered in that class – how to talk about tough subject material, how to tie in relevant current events, etc. – were more helpful than I could have anticipated. I also know that the entire education program, but specifically the English education classes, helped prepare me for how to design the best reading and writing lessons that I can.

What advice would you give current English majors?

If you’re trying to get onto a writing staff, be brave and apply when there are job openings, even if you think you won’t be good enough! You never know until you try. Write your passions and your voice will come through.

The Twittersphere is on fire right now, and Book Twitter is one of the greatest social platforms you can engage in. There is so much critical analysis happening in 140 characters, it’s madness. So find some authors, publishers, book bloggers, etc., to follow so you can get in on all of that action. It’ll also help you make connections that can further your own aspirations once you graduate.

Save all of your notes! I had to teach The Scarlet Letter my first year at Homestead, and I knew I had taken such great notes in Dr. Habich‘s class, but I tragically couldn’t ever find them.