The Alumni Association will honor 18 NC State professors on May 5 for their outstanding work in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the field. We talked (via email) with some of the recipients about their work and the keys to being a successful professor.
Today we’re visiting with Christopher Crosbie, an assistant professor of English. Crosbie is one of four recipients of the Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award.
What is the key to being a successful teacher? That’s a remarkably difficult question, one I’m not sure I’m entirely qualified to answer. Without being too coy, I think it depends on what we mean by “success.” In the immediate term, which is as far as I can judge, the best pedagogy comes from blending the scholar’s expertise with the students’ current interests. What I’m studying in the archive is likely going to be miles apart from my students’ immediate preoccupations. If I focus exclusively on the former, the class might well remain disengaged; if too much on the latter, I’ve failed to stretch them beyond their own familiar range of experience. I try to strike that balance in my classroom.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction as a professor? I particularly enjoy those moments in class when it’s clear the students suddenly “get” a particular scene, when Shakespeare becomes at once demystified and yet all the more wondrous because of the myriad performative possibilities present in the text. Many students approach Shakespeare with some trepidation, a hesitancy borne in part from thinking that his works have one real meaning or point. Once they start to see Shakespeare as not so monolithic, however, they become more attuned to the capacity of the text to hold variant meanings simultaneously. Those instances when they start to appreciate a text that otherwise seemed daunting, a culture that at first seemed remote, are very gratifying.
I also invite my students to stay in contact with me beyond the semester, to think of me as a resource they can return to as needed. I especially enjoy when they take me up on that offer. Some write to tell me about a live performance they’ve attended; others ask for additional material to read. Many forward strange, ridiculous, moving, funny or otherwise notable occurrences of Shakespearean allusion in pop culture. I spend my research time with Aristotle, Lucretius and Epictetus, so appearances by Shakespeare in a graphic novel or DVD commentary from a cult favorite feel like real finds. It’s satisfying to see students continuing their engagement with Shakespeare (however adapted to their own culture) and to have them feel comfortable enough to keep in touch.