CUTF and Readings In Contemporary Fiction: The Power of An Idea

Over the past semester, my experience teaching in Readings In Contemporary Fiction has transformed my outlook as both a student and aspiring educator. Going into this experience (especially from a student perspective), I already knew I wanted my teaching to be student-focused. The syllabus itself reflected my goals; I chose readings that were targeted at young and new adults, and reflected themes that would be directly salient for this audience. I hoped that these readings would stimulate discussions that were not only focused on craft and writing, but also were meaningful to students’ personal lives. And, to my delight, I found they did! 

However, as someone who had never led these discussions before, I learned one of the best ways to highlight these deeper themes was to let the students guide the class there. For example, while reading The Invisible Life, one student pointed out how the main character, Addie, inspired several works of art, and wondered how many people we inspire daily, without even knowing it. This prompted a broader discussion about the butterfly effect: how our words, our ideas, and even our appearance can make a difference in the world. 

I was taken aback by how willing students were to share their own stories and opinions when given the freedom to do so. It seemed by leaving the conversation open (with gentle guiding here and there), students felt empowered to bring their own interests to the table, which contributed to a richer learning environment for everyone! 

Our last day of class!

One of my favorite parts about being part of CUTF has been broadening my understanding of how ideas work, not just on the academic level, but on an interpersonal one as well. One piece of advice Professor Reed gave me was to trust my ideas; that if I were passionate about what I wanted to teach, then this passion would translate in class, and students would want to contribute too. One of the core concepts of The Invisible Life was memory, or being forgotten, which connected to a concept that I was learning co-currently in my cognitive psychology class! At first, I was hesitant to share this information, but Professor Reed encouraged me to discuss it; that part of the learning process was coming at concepts from different angles. I found this approach to be extremely rewarding; not only did I share my own special interests, but students added their own outside knowledge (like theology or LBGTQ+ activism) to our readings as well. Through CUTF, I have walked through the entire process of an idea from its conception, to planning, to actually receiving feedback and commentary from a class. This experience has been invaluable in understanding how my own formulation of ideas and concepts can be interpreted and built on by others. 

Although CUTF has come to an end, I’m definitely not done exploring opportunities in the classroom! As mentioned before, I am double majoring in English Writing and Psychology, so I would like to pursue a TAship in one of my psych classes to get a feel for teaching in a STEM-related field. As a rising junior, the Psychology courses I will be taking are much smaller than introductory courses, which lends itself to the one-on-one relationship and discussion that I’ve come to cherish in my fellowship. Next year, I also will be taking on heavier research pursuits, especially in psychology! I plan to work with the YETI lab at Pitt to develop an interdisciplinary honors thesis exploring fantasy, media, and symptoms of psychosis. I am thrilled to pursue this research, as it assimilates both my interests in writing and psychology and will examine real-world applications of how fantasy implicates real life. Overall, my time in CUTF has helped me fully appreciate how a wealth of knowledge and perspectives can enrich our understanding of any topic, and how being open to new ideas and feedback can help us grow as students and thinkers in the world.

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