Liz Christianson is a visiting professor in the English department. She is in her third year at BYU and teaches English 251 and 311. Her research area is in trans-Atlantic literature from the turn of the 20th century.
Did you always want to teach at a school?
I took some time off, and I was a stay-at-home mom. I have five children. So that was my first career and my preference for my first career. Then, as my children became of school age, I returned to academia. I was actually originally a physics major. When I returned to academia, I thought, ‘Physics, hmm. No.’ One of my loves has always been literature and writing and those processes, so when I returned to school, I did my graduate work in English.
You teach English 251 — Fundamentals of Literary Interpretation and Criticism. What does that entail?
It sounds really intimidating, and most of my students are really intimidated, too. … It’s a survey course that will let students know the history of production of fundamental literary interpretation through some sort of theoretical text. … 251 is traditionally the lowest rated in the department no matter who teaches it, just because it pushes students. … It’s just a real hard-core thinking class, and I think that’s why students don’t like it because it pushes them in places that they’ve never really had to think before, and some students aren’t ready to think outside of the constructs of their current thinking.
A lot of students say you make writing fun. Is that intentional?
I enjoy teaching, I enjoy the students, and I think they’re fantastic. I think when you can enjoy the classroom environment, it makes for a fun environment even if writing up that non-fiction history article isn’t actually something that you go, ‘Hoorah I get to do that!’ I found my students just have a wonderful and generous spirit towards other students in the classroom. So if you can create a workshop where students feel comfortable with each other and can actually start working on their things, then that makes it enjoyable. I would say the students bring that aspect to the classroom as much as I do.
What are some of the strategies and tools you use to make writing fun?
The principles I want them to remember, the rhetorical principles, are audience, purpose, angle, genre. I have them say it to me all the time. Audience, purpose, angle, genre. In every piece that they write, if they can recognize their multiple audiences, if they have a clear idea of what their purpose is, they have a clear angle or focus to their argument and if they understand the genre for which they are writing, they can write just about anything. … If you’re writing an academic piece, it does not have to be boring. You can engage your audience, you can engage your readers so that it’s a pleasure to read, so we try to do that.
How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
I believe that the classroom is only a learning environment when everybody in the classroom can be the teacher and the student. We have to create an environment where students can hear other students, students feel comfortable speaking their mind. … If you’re not in an environment where students are learning from students and I’m learning from students, then I don’t think any learning takes place. Every individual in the class room is both a teacher and a student.