Saturday, February 24, 2018

Know Your Profs: English instructor Christine Kirchner says variety is the spice of life

February 4, 2015 by Jason Schreurs, assistant editor

Know Your Profs is an ongoing series of profiles on the many instructors at Camosun College. Every issue we ask a different prof at Camosun the same 10 questions so we can get to know them a little better.

Do you have an instructor that you want to see interviewed in the paper? Maybe you want to know more about one of your teachers, but you’re too busy, or shy, to ask? Email and we’ll add your instructor to our list of teachers to talk to.

This issue we caught up with English Lit, Composition, and Creative Writing instructor Christine Kirchner and talked about the joys of teaching a variety of subjects, and how one misguided statement from a guest speaker can almost ruin a class’ day.

1: What do you teach and how long have you been a teacher at Camosun?

I have been teaching English Literature, Composition, and Creative Writing since 1996. I taught briefly at the University of Victoria, Royal Roads, and the Camosun College School of Business before becoming a full-time instructor in the English Department at Camosun College in 1999.

Camosun’s Christine Kirchner (photo by Jill Westby/Nexus).


2: What do you personally get out of teaching?

I enjoy the interactions with the students. I love it when a class comes together, and there is energy and a passion for the literature or the writing. As a teacher, I am in the privileged position to observe and encourage students as their writing styles evolve; they discover their “voice” and their confidence grows. I love the diversity within our classes. Students at Camosun come from different backgrounds and cultures, and there is a wide range of ages and experience. Everyone has a unique frame of reference that he or she brings to the class’ discussion of a work of literature. For example, a student will notice something about a story or a poem that I haven’t noticed before, and he or she makes me re-think the story’s or the poem’s meaning. I love it when I learn from my students.

3: What’s one thing you wish your students knew about you?

Well, I always tell them that you can’t truthfully write about characters unless you first know yourself… really know yourself. This process involves a rather painful process of “holding up the mirror,” looking at ourselves honestly and objectively, our “warts” as well as our “charms.” I would like them to know that I have great difficulty with this process, too.

4: What’s one thing you wish they didn’t know about you?

That’s a funny question because if I didn’t want them to know something about me, why would I tell it to you now to publish it in Nexus? I will give you the answer that I gave to my children, and now to my grandchildren, when they ask me those kinds of questions: that all my dark, nefarious secrets are written in my autobiography, which will be published posthumously. If nothing else, that may guarantee one or two sales of the book.

5: What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you as a teacher here?

One of the best things I’ve found about teaching at Camosun College is the opportunity to teach a variety of courses. As teachers, we are not slotted into a niche, unless we wish to be. For example, this January I am teaching a second-year film and literature course, two first-year Indigenous literature courses, and a second-year creative non-fiction course. This constant variety has been so beneficial to my teaching and to my learning, since it allows me to expand my knowledge and understanding of writing and of literature, and to keep up with the changes in critical thinking and writing that are happening all over the world.

6: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you as a teacher here?

I was teaching an evening travel-writing class. The class was full of mainly older professional people (baby boomers or “zoomers”) who were retired and eager to write about their travels. I had invited local poet, fiction, and nonfiction writer Susan Musgrave to talk about some of her travel/personal-essay pieces that we were studying in the class. She began by saying she had only one piece of advice for them, and that was to never to leave their homes because the world is a very scary place. You could have heard a feather drop during the long silence that followed that remark. I have a blurred memory of my linguistic calisthenics as I tried to save the situation by humorously reminding her that this was indeed a travel writing class. Somehow the situation and my credibility as a teacher were saved, but I will never forget the stunned look on their collective faces.

7: What do you see in the future of postsecondary education?

Postsecondary education is certainly evolving quickly due to the advances in technology and the coming together of cultures into more multicultural or global communities. The classroom I teach in is vastly different from the classroom I experienced as a postsecondary student. The one thing that hasn’t changed, however, is that students are still saddled with crushing debt as they embark on a career after graduation. I have a singular wish that postsecondary education become free for students in Canada.

8: What do you do to relax on the weekends?

My idea of relaxation has always involved physical activity: sports like tennis, rowing, golf, and so on. I have played tennis for most of my life. Much of my job as a teacher requires my sitting for long hours marking essays, stories, etc., so I always look forward to a good game of tennis on the weekends.

9: What’s your favourite meal?

I know how to cook and have become quite good at it, having raised a family. Nevertheless, I would have to agree with my mother, who raised seven children: her favourite meal is the one that she didn’t have to cook.

10: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
What outrages me is when the helpless and innocent, be they children, men, women, whole cultures, or animals, are oppressed or hurt by those in positions of power over them.

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