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December 2016

 

A wandering scholar: David Clark
William Burns

 

Although he has been an instructor of English at SCCC for not yet two years, David Clark has made an immediate impact on all who have had the pleasure to meet him.

David is a new face here but he certainly is not new to teaching. He has taught across the U.S. in a variety of schools and settings. David moved to Long Island from Texas where he spent six years teaching and researching at Baylor University as well as co-leading two study abroad trips that included stops in Istanbul, London, Canterbury, Antwerp and Maastricht.

Prior to that he taught high school Latin and philosophy for a year in Idaho, and before that at Western Michigan University, where he taught “tech” sections of Heroes and Villains of the Middle Ages.

David brings experience with a wide range of students and educational environments to his work at SCCC, and he’s looking for ways to integrate that experience to benefit our students.  One way David is doing this is by asking his freshman composition students to collaborate with advanced English studies students in Narva, Estonia, who were preparing to visit New York last May. David and his Estonian colleague viewed the project as a way in which to leverage technology to afford some of our students who are unable to travel (or unconvinced of the benefits of traveling) to gain experience working with students from other countries.

His work with study abroad programs at Baylor University convinced him that helping students to see different parts of the world and to work and converse with people from other locales is immeasurably important in preparing them to be successful citizens and compassionate individuals. He would like to help find affordable ways to increase their opportunities to do these things such as his Estonia project. David would also like to find ways to facilitate student travel within the United States; many of his students have never been out of the mid-Atlantic region and were shocked to discover, for example, that there were no private bagel shops in Austin.

Closer to home David’s pedagogy focuses on the central role writing will play in many of his students’ professional lives, and he encourages them to think about developing their analytical writing skills through elective literature and composition courses. Students who appreciate language and can articulate sophisticated arguments in a clear, elegant style have the ability to achieve success in nearly any field.

To that end David aims for transparency about the value of assignments he asks his students to complete, and he tries to assign writing projects that show students how the skills they are learning will apply in professional situations. One class completed a grant proposal assignment that students said they appreciated precisely because it was a type of writing project they could envision themselves completing while pursuing their future careers.

David feels that the strength of the traditional classroom is the opportunity that it provides for collaborative learning. He works hard to help his students build a community in the classroom and then relies on their expertise and insights to drive learning. There are no students in his classes, only colleagues working together to improve their knowledge and skills. In both composition and literature classes, his writing assignments allow students plenty of flexibility in determining the topics on which they write.

In one round of essays, for instance, students explained how to put on a successful high school stage production, reviewed Long Island music venues, gave advice to future King Kullen cashiers and explained the differences between Long Island beaches. 

In his literature classes students write reflections that they submit electronically prior to class meetings. David uses these reflections to determine the direction discussion will take in individual class periods and often asks students to share their reflections in class. When discussing The Hobbit, for example, one student interpreted the relationship between Bilbo and the dwarves as an analogy for the relationship between a lieutenant and his squad. His reflection served as a way to frame a class conversation about character development in The Hobbit and as an opportunity to explore the relationship between art and current events by talking about the context of the work, which was written between WWI and WWII.

Student responses to David’s approaches have been very positive. One young woman told him, on the first day of classes, that he was “the best teacher at SCCC,” but David takes her opinion with a grain of salt. He has one student who threatens to jump out the window every time he suggests that they work in groups, but that same student admits after each group exercise that the assignment was valuable. David was overjoyed when, for the first time in his teaching career, 100% of the students in his introduction to literature class successfully scanned a Shakespearean sonnet. He also enjoys it when the grades of his composition students improve on each essay.

David feels that the FA has given him clarity and support since his first semester at SCCC. David believes that the expectations, policies and benefits for new faculty are exceedingly clear. David’s favorite part of working at SCCC is the collegiality, and the FA has helped to foster those relationships. His FA mentor Lizzie McCormick has been a particularly helpful source of guidance this year.

For the future David is focused on publishing his dissertation as a book, submitting the proposal to Boydell and Brewer under the title Reinscribing Orthodoxy through Masses and Feast Days in the Morte d’Arthur. In terms of teaching he proposed a class titled Medieval Epics that ran this semseter as an honors class. At the same time David’s working on his next research project, an analysis of Mary and Elizabeth in The Hêliand—a 6,000-line Germanicized adaptation of an early Gospel harmony written in Old Saxon.

In all his courses David hopes to help more of our students become passionate about something. David and his wife have lived their lives by the philosophy that everyone should find something they love and then become the best at it, whether it’s medieval studies or ballet. He believes that students who know who they are and what they want to do work harder in every area of their studies because they begin to look for ways that they can connect the material they are learning to their interest or specialization.

David Clark’s philosophy of educational, personal and professional connectedness is already transforming the culture of SCCC. Not bad for the new guy!