Elisabeth Buck is a Teaching Assistant and PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition. She was selected to receive the Doctoral Level Excellence in Teaching Award for 2015-2016 from Ball State. She has also been nominated for the Midwest Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) Excellence in Teaching award.

What classes have you taught?

I’ve taught several sections of ENG 103 and 104, and I helped co-teach English 605, which is the second semester teacher practicum course. This semester, I’m also teaching ENG 213, which is Introduction to Digital Literacies.

EBuckWhat’s been your favorite class?

I’ve really enjoyed all of my classes. Every semester is so different. My students are all so unique and they bring such cool things to the class, but in terms of content I think I’ve had two favorites. The first was when I was teaching in my master’s program and I got to teach a Disney-themed composition course. That was only my second semester teaching. It was great to have that as an experience, and I had so much fun! As for my other favorite, well, I’m really having a lot of fun teaching my 213 class. I’m teaching it on the theme of social media. We’ve had a lot of really cool conversations about social media and the significance of social media to contemporary communications. The students in that class have been awesome. I tell them all the time how much I’m going to miss them next semester.

What are you currently researching?

I’m working on my dissertation right now. It’s about the intersections between digital literacies and writing center scholarship, so I’m really able to bring in my interest in digital technologies, but also my work with writing centers. I’ve had opportunities to interview scholars, I did a survey, and I did a lit review. I’m putting it all together right now and writing a conclusion for it, but my research sort of broadly surrounds social media and pop culture, digital literacies, and also writing program and writing center administration.

How would you describe yourself as a teacher?  

I think when I first started teaching one of the goals I had for myself was that I really wanted to think back to the teachers I admired and the teachers who had a huge impact on my education. I try to think about the attributes they had that I want to emulate in my own classroom– things like being organized, understanding, and clear in terms of assignments, but I also go back and identify things that helped me as a student. I like to think of my classroom and my approach to teaching as trying to remember my days as a student, since I am a student, and to have those traits that I thought were really helpful. I think it’s something that, you know, the further you’ve been away from school, the more you start to forget about.

Do you have a specific assignment or project that you particularly enjoy?

I try to have my students focus on how social media impacts the way information is received and distributed, and also how quickly that changes and how those changes can be really jarring at times. I had my students do a current event presentation. Basically they all signed up for a day in class when they’d present and then picked a current event, something that had happened within the past two weeks, to talk about what role social media played in amplifying or distributing that content. It was really interesting how quickly the topics shifted. At one point we’d be talking about the Starbucks red cup controversy, and then really serious things like The Million Man March or the republican debates that were going on. What I was trying to underscore is that this is the way we receive news on social media. You’ll find a really serious topic followed by something that’s totally frivolous. I really wanted students to think critically about how these things might not exist in the same capacity as they do without social media. That’s been an assignment I’ve really liked from this past semester.

What do you love most about teaching?

It’s probably sort of a cliche answer to say “the students,” but I think that’s true. It’s kind of hard to describe when you’re a teacher and you see the work your students produce at the end of the semester. You feel so proud of them, especially if they’d expressed hesitancy at any point in the semester, and to be at that end point and be able to look at them and say, “You did it!” It’s been great to see some of the students I taught in my master’s program, some of them still keep in touch with me, and they’ll say, “I just got into a grad program!” Even now that I’ve been here for four years, seeing the students who were freshmen now seniors, it’s been so nice being able to know them and talk to them. As an instructor you’re so privileged to be a part of your students’ lives for however brief a time period. You get to meet so many people, and I really enjoy that aspect.

Can you describe what you believe is your job or goal as a teacher?

I think my classes in general are really pop culture and media oriented. I do that because I really think it’s important for students to be able to think critically about the world around them and think critically about the things they’re constantly exposed to and sometimes barraged with, and to see those things as a really legitimate aspect of communication and discourse. I think, because college can be so scary, it’s really cool sometimes to come into a classroom and say, “We’re going to talk about Yik Yak today.” I think those things really matter and it’s important to have a critical framework to be able to think about these things that students are always going to have to confront. It matters a lot. The very first thing I had my students do this semester was switch names with each other and search for each other online, to sort of prove that your online identity matters. It’s kind of scary to hear what people can find out about you, so you need to work on being conscious of your digital identity. That’s why I frame my classes in that way, because I think that type of writing matters a lot and will matter a lot.

What advice do you have for other teachers?

I think it’s always important to be true to yourself. Some advice that was given to me when I first started teaching was that I have to be really draconian and really strict and harsh or the students would walk all over me, but I don’t want to be that teacher. Everyone has a different style of teaching, and you can’t try to adopt someone else’s style and think it will work for you. It’s really helpful to identify the things you do well and the things you value, and to shape your classroom around that. Don’t just assume because someone else does something that it’ll work for you. The work of composition and writing especially are so context specific.

What advice do you have for students?

I think I was so nervous to talk to my professors as an undergraduate that I missed out on a lot of opportunities to build relationships with my professors, so I do regret not reaching out more. I think I was nervous because I perceived a huge authority gap between students and professors, when now I think a lot of professors would’ve been really receptive to that. I would say take a chance and try to actually speak with your professors. Meet with them, because so many would be willing to help you and be really invested in your academic career. Sometimes you have to be the one to take the first step in forging that relationship.

What has been the most enjoyable part of your time here at Ball State?

It was hard for me because I moved here from Nevada having a very vague conception of what the Midwest was. Now I’m in this position, four years later, where I can say that I am so happy I came. My dissertation chair, Dr. Grouling, and all the administrators here that I’ve worked with, as well as the people in my program, have become some of my best friends, so I think it’s hard to say something really specific. When I graduate in May I know I’m really going to miss it here. It’s really nice to be able to walk away from a place and know you’ll miss it, instead of leaving and saying good riddance. It’s hard for me to pick something specific because the whole experience has been so positive. I would not have received this award if not for the people who supported me in the process. 

What does this award mean to you?

In some ways it’s sort of a culmination of roughly four and a half years of teaching, and it’s one of those things where I feel I’ve grown so much as a teacher as well. It’s hard not to remember my very first day in the classroom, being nervous, and I remember my roommate at the time, when I was grading my first round of papers, took a picture of me just lying in all the papers looking so overwhelmed.

I know it’s cliche, but it really is such an honor, and I wouldn’t have gotten here if I didn’t have all these wonderful students. They’re awesome people. Teaching can be really hard at times and sometimes you have to be really vulnerable with your students, but it really has just been such a good experience that I’m really going to miss.