Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
Ph.D. Candidate (Adviser: Robert Mitchell)
Deanna Koretsky entered Duke’s Ph.D. program in English in 2009. She has served as a teaching assistant in seven courses in the Department of English at Duke, as well as an invited guest instructor at Meredith College. Every summer since 2012, she has developed and taught interdisciplinary, undergraduate-level courses to college-bound high school students in in Duke’s Talent Identification Program. She also has designed and taught a first-year writing course in the Thompson Writing Program. She has been a fellow in The Graduate School’s Preparing Future Faculty program, a participant in the school’s Certificate in College Teaching, and a scholar in the Ph.D. Lab in Digital Knowledge. .
IN HER WORDS
“For the Romantic poets, the person of genius does not impart new knowledge, but rather teaches others to recognize the talents and abilities—the 'genius'—they naturally possess within. It is such a process-driven, developmental approach that I endeavor to realize in my classroom: to frame literary critical methodologies as practices that will help students discover and hone their interests and abilities—their genius—beyond the literature classroom. My goal is to help students develop the habits of thought, ethical consciousness, and technical proficiency in written and oral expression to discover and communicate their own, unique perspectives.”
IN THEIR WORDS
Excerpts from Koretsky's Nominations
“She was poised, confident, well-prepared, and engaging in front of a group of students, drawing them with her own energy and excitement about the text and the topic.”
“Her innate connection with students is evident in the warmth with which they respond to her and the ease with which she interacts with them.”
“While she is relaxed in the classroom, Deanna is also clearly in control; she is extremely well organized, and her classroom preparations and lesson plans are meticulous.”
“Deanna effortlessly maintained the delicate balance between friendship and authority—she was a figure the students felt comfortable confiding in and automatically respected.”
“She’s not afraid to be unconventional in the classroom, coming up with unique ways of learning that target every learning style and stick with students permanently.”
“She challenges students and then proves to them that they are capable of meeting the challenge. Every student who ever calls her a teacher will come away a far better student because of it.”
How would you describe your teaching style?
I try to make my students feel comfortable in my classroom. I want my class to feel like a community, regardless of the class size. I lectured in a 60-person class once, and it was still important for me to get the students talking, both to me and to each other, and to hopefully get them excited about the material.
In general, I work hard to create an open and safe conversational atmosphere. I frequently emphasize social justice issues—race, gender, class, sexuality, and how conversations about these topics in the 18th and 19th centuries continue to inform much about our world today—so it’s important for me that students are comfortable with me, and comfortable with one another, before we begin making those connections.
What are some things you have done as a teacher that you are proud of?
I tend to get creative with my assignments and classroom exercises. I teach literature, so obviously we do a lot of writing, but in addition to that, I am interested in what literature does outside the context of a literature classroom, so I try to integrate assignment that ask students to see their work beyond that context. For instance, in a class on slavery that I TA’ed for, I had students go into the physical archives at Duke, find sources on slavery, and then contextualize and publish them online. The idea there was to think about not only what forgotten works of literature can teach us about history and society, but also how creating particular narratives around those old, dusty things in archives is, itself, a way of putting literary principles into practice. In effect, the students were not only recovering historical artifacts and making them newly available, but they were learning to construct a voice, an argument, and a narrative about history—the same thing they would be doing in writing a paper, but in a different way, and for a different audience.
What do you think are the most important qualities of being a good teacher?
I always say that teaching is an exercise in empathy. What I mean by that is, as a teacher, I am constantly trying to balance my familiarity with my material with what it might be like to encounter it for the first time. Some of the hardest moments of a semester for me come in the first week or so, before I know my students. I have to assume that my students know nothing, which is never true. Once I start to get to know their collective personality as a class, and to see them as individuals, I can begin to tailor my lesson plans in ways that anticipate where they already are in their understanding, and then to complicate our shared thinking from there.
How have you improved as a teacher compared to when you first started teaching?
I plan less. When I first started, I was really nervous about making sure that I hit every single point that could possibly be hit, and that I did it all within, say, a 90-minute class session. So I punctuated my lessons very precisely; my notes were like, “five minutes on this” and “10 minutes on that,” and in my rush to get through my carefully bulleted list of talking points, I would be limiting students’ contributions and engagement.
Now, I let the conversation develop more organically. I always have an objective in mind, but I’ve learned to go with the flow a lot more. I’ve learned that sometimes, what I think will take 10 minutes might actually take 30 minutes, or vice versa, and that’s ok. And I’ve learned that it’s possible to strike a balance between covering what I need to cover and letting students have some autonomy and be able to take the class in a different direction, which is also sometimes necessary.
You participated in The Graduate School’s Certificate in College Teaching and Preparing Future Faculty programs. What have you gained from them?
Those programs are so useful. Getting to connect with faculty at different types of colleges through the Preparing Future Faculty program is very useful because you get a sense of what it’s like to work in different settings in higher education, which in turn helps you decide where you want to apply when you go on the job market. Because of PFF, I knew exactly what type of school I wanted, and was able to speak to why I wanted it and to what I could bring to it from a position of both knowledge and experience.
The Certificate in College Teaching was really useful because to be able to talk about teaching with people who have nothing to do with your discipline, you have to think about teaching in a way that’s not subject-specific, but is rather about the enterprise of education in general. You also get to see what people across the university are doing in their classrooms, which helps you to better understand what your students are getting, how they are being taught. It’s a small window into what your students’ lives might be like outside of your own classroom or discipline. I thought it was really interesting and eye-opening.