This fall, Professor Kathryn Winner has joined Wellesley College’s department of English and creative writing as a visiting lecturer in English. This semester she is teaching an american studies and English cross-registered course entitled “Literacy Celebrity and the Use of Media.” With her first few weeks of teaching at Wellesley under her belt, she describes feeling “delighted” and “extremely lucky” to have found a school that is a fit. She also noted her excitement at being part of a university that prioritizes learning in the classroom.
“I have long hoped or wished or been curious about what it would be like to teach at a liberal arts institution, an institution where the point of the college is teaching. And it has not disappointed. I’m really a believer. The students here have been so amazing and so brilliant and confident and very honest. [There is] a lot of evidence that like y’all are really nurtured,” said Winner.
Her passion for teaching has been present for much of her life, and her first experience came right after undergrad, where she found her time in the classroom to have a positive impact on her own explorations within the subject.
“I worked at a summer school in New Hampshire, and it was really fun. And then I went to grad school … [at] Stanford and got to teach college students for the first time, which was thrilling and a very steep learning curve. I found it really grounding and really helpful for my own thinking, really animating, and it feels really good to be helpful in that way. I love it a lot,” said Winner.
Although her parents are more “STEM-oriented,” Winner explains that by the time she was in high school she already “identified as an English lit kid.” She continued to follow her interest in the subject, and found additional inspiration in the devotion and enthusiasm of her teachers.
“When I think back on it, I just kept getting lucky in terms of being exposed to really invested, passionate, brilliant teachers [that] I just kept finding. My professors were so interesting and so helpful. I got interested early in literature, and then I just stayed interested … I feel really lucky to still be doing it,” said Winner.
She describes her favorite part of being a professor as “hearing what students really think.” Winner explains that an essential element of being “good” at English is having the courage to engage authentically and vulnerably with the work, and accepting that your own understanding of the piece is a core part of what and how everyone in the classroom is learning.
“I like getting honest reactions, especially to experimental or esoteric or weird texts. I feel like I’ve done my job when the students in my class really believe that they’re entitled to their own reactions to those texts. And so much of what often gets cast as being smart or good at English is about confidence and just having the willingness and the wherewithal to say what you actually think and what the text is actually bringing out within you and taking your reaction seriously as data. When that gets going and the conversation gets really honest and I get to learn what people your age actually think about this stuff that I spend a lot of time thinking about, it’s just amazing,” said Winner.
Besides teaching, Winner says that another part of what she has enjoyed so much about her time at Wellesley so far has been her colleagues in the English department. Describing herself as an “English department partisan,” Winner has so loved getting to spend time in other Professor’s classes that she urges every reader of “The Wellesley News” to sign up for a class.
“I’ve been going around to different people’s classes to observe people teaching because I’m fairly early in my career and I want to learn … The people are delightful. And there’s such a wide range of approaches. I watched his [Professor Tavi Gonzalez’s] class and I went in ready to take notes about teaching or observe his teaching and instead I just fully became a student and started taking notes about the content. I was so amazed at how much I learned, and how much energy there was and how collaborative the conversation was. And then I also observed Bill Cain’s class, Professor Cain, and again just amazing. I’m really excited to keep going around and learning about the faculty and … the department.”
Beyond the department, Winner looks forward to getting to know the school further, exploring all the connections and opportunities that are a part of the Wellesley experience.
“I’m excited to learn more about Wellesley as a community because it does seem like a very healthy and community minded place … I want to learn more about everything the college has to offer,” said Winner.