PWR In the Spotlight
Spotlight on: MaryAnn Duffy
1) How did you become a writing teacher?
When I was getting my Masters in Secondary Education in English at Hunter College, I ended up working at their Writing Center and that pretty much set my aspirations in a different direction. I also had Ann Raimes as a writing teacher, so I think those two things combined made me cognizant of composition studies as its own discipline. When I graduated, my first job was setting up a peer tutoring center for Higher Education Opportunity Program at Southampton College when it was still part of LIU. I stayed there for about six years and really honed my teaching skills in composition and several other classes, plus ran the writing center. It was a lot of work but also a ton of fun.
How did you start teaching at Stony Brook? I took some time off after my twins were born, and when I was ready to get back to work, Southampton campus had closed more or less, so I applied at EOP/AIM at Stony Brook and started there. From there I met the PWR director at the time, Gene Hammond, and when a spot opened up, he hired me. The rest is history.
2. What inspires you?
A good read - especially one that touches on social justice, politics or personal growth. The students, of course, are always so giving in their writing and their essays stick with me throughout time. It’s easy to feel buried sometimes under the workload, but I always finish each semester with a smile as to the connection I’ve made with students from all over the world. They keep me feeling young and hopeful.
3. What are some of your favorite experiences as a writing teacher?
Two things: collaboration with my colleagues has been a lot of fun and really interesting. I like to share ideas, writing, scholarship and I’ve found PWR to be very collaborative. Second, watching a student’s writing actually improve gives me great satisfaction. But I think my favorite experience was when a student was presenting her review of a chapter from a book we were reading. She acted out in slowmo how she took the winning shot on her basketball team as part of her narration. It was pure performance art.
4. What do you enjoy the most about your students?
Their diversity. They keep my young at heart and my perspective wide. I like how they all just want the world to be a better place, to get an education, to get a good job and live a productive life whether they are from Turkey, China, India, Nepal, South Korea, Australia, America, Pakistan, Russia, Guatemala, Columbia, Haiti, Jamaica, the Shinnicock Nation, Dominican Republic, Nigeria. I’ve had students from all of these countries, and more. It’s like the world is coming into my classroom. How lucky am I?
5. What is the one thing that you hope your students take away and remember from WRT 102?
To consider the rules of the overall structure in everything they write, then break them discerningly.
6. You began teaching in the Equal Opportunity Program at Stony Brook. Can you tell us a bit about this and how this affected your subsequent teaching and projects?
It spurred my interest in grammar, dialects, creole languages and the host of cultures that are the New York metropolitan area. That spurred my interest in pedagogical theories of multilingualism which dovetailed nicely with my interest in postcolonial fiction and history. Ultimately, as composition teachers we are faced with that tension of celebrating linguistic diversity and teaching what we call Standard English. This is a tension that keeps teaching fresh for me.
7, You are known for being a champion of the teaching of rhetorical grammar. Can you tell us a bit about this and how it can make better writers?
I go beyond your grandparent’s teaching of grammar. My job in teaching rhetorical grammar is to have students identify their own writing habits and sentence patterns, weak and strong. We really just learn identification of phrases and clauses then become aware of how they are placed in sentences relative to each other creating emphasis or subordination. When they apply this to their own writing, they learn to celebrate their unique voice while at the same time develop an awareness of their repeated weaknesses.
8. Last year, you traveled to Nepal and Bangladesh and met with students at faculty at universities there. What did you take away from this experience? Did it affect the way you think about your work?
It affected me greatly. It was the cultural delight of my life. It made the world feel small and I was amazed at the scholarship and hunger for collaboration among the faculty we met. The students were so sweet and earnest and that was also so much fun.
Because of the trip, I have delved even further into studying multilingualism or translingualism. I work with Shyam Sharma and Surendra Subedi to read applicants for their South Asian Writing Workshops. I stay in touch with faculty we met. I feel like in my own small way, I’m helping to bring South Asian scholars into the academic conversation dominated by the West. Only in inclusion is there democracy.