During the decade I spent as a consultant in the industrial training profession I discovered that the act of teaching is one of the most efficient ways to learn. Therefore, when I decided to embark on an academic career I knew I wanted to approach each new instructing experience as an opportunity to cultivate a collaborative learning environment for both my students and myself. I also knew that I wanted to get in the classroom and start connecting with undergraduates as soon as I possibly could. This is the key reason why I chose to pursue my Ph.D. at Georgia State University. Doctoral students on assistantships at GSU are given the opportunity and autonomy to design, and teach classes in our own areas of expertise. We are also often called upon to teach courses in Communication Department’s general curriculum that may or may not intersect with our academic specialties.
My first teaching assignment at GSU was a class for non-majors on the History of Motion Pictures. I was excited to be teaching but, admittedly nervous as it had been nearly twenty years since I took film history as an undergraduate at the University of North Texas. The department supplied me with a text book, chapter outlines and mentorship from a lecturer who had been teaching the course for several semesters, but in the classroom I was on my own. I decided to take the opportunity to teach film history as a way for my students and I to learn together. My students and I discussed and analyzed readings and screenings that covered everything from the Lumiere Brothers to James Cameron. By the end of the semester my passion for cinema was reignited. However, the master’s degree work in media and cultural studies I had conducted while at the University of Texas at Austin compelled me to make amendments to the History of Motion Pictures syllabus as I prepared to teach the course again.
My research interests center on using cultural studies and media industries studies approaches to analyze both televisual texts and TV productions. My aim is to expose and interrogate the ways in which various cultural hierarchies are both reified and subverted in popular media. I wanted to apply those approaches to the study of film history. Additionally, since Georgia State University has one of the most diverse undergraduate populations in the United States I wanted the material we covered to at least, in some way, intersect with my students’ histories and identities. I developed lesson plans on Oscar Micheaux and race cinema. We covered silent era female directors such as Alice Guy-Blaché and Lois Weber and we discussed Todd Haynes and the New Queer Cinema movement. My goal was to diversify my syllabus in a way that attempted to reflect the diversity in my classroom. I believe I achieved that goal.
In addition to teaching film history I have also been given the opportunity to design and teach three television courses for upper level film and video majors. I teach a course on contemporary television called TV Analysis, a course on Radio/TV History, and a senior seminar on reality-based TV genres. These courses directly intersect with my research and they were the inspiration for my dissertation on labor issues in reality television. I might have never learned of the challenges of those who write for reality programming had I not taken the time to educate myself on the entry level positions on the dozens of reality shows that are almost always in production, here, in Atlanta. My senior seminar was largely a discussion based class on reality TV. Since most of my students claimed to “hate” reality television I had to find a way to help them connect with the material. I decided that when, possible, we would talk about production issues in reality TV. I tried to steer our discussion towards talking about the production work that is available in and around my students’ home towns. My aim was to make the course material relatable to their interests and ambitions. In the course evaluation one student wrote, “ I commend her for turning a class I thought I’d hate into one of my favorite classes this semester. Finally, we were allowed to choose a project (production) as our final instead of a paper, and I found this great for production track students. I had a great time doing it and actually am leaving my senior year with an awesome piece of material.” I wanted the students in my senior seminar to be prepared as possible for the type of work they would mostly likely be doing if they chose to pursue careers in television production. In turn, after nine semesters of teaching fourteen courses at Georgia State, I believe my students have prepared me for a career as a college professor. They have taught me just as many lessons as I have taught them.