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ERIC Number: EJ1001219
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2013-Apr-8
Pages: N/A
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0009-5982
What My Ph.D. Taught Me
Levenstein, Jessica
Chronicle of Higher Education, Apr 2013
The author started in the Ph.D. program in comparative literature at Princeton in 1992, a year after she graduated from college. She fell in love with mythology and the classical traditions and find herself teaching literature. In the remainder of her time at Princeton, she precepted for four or five more classes, got the chance to join the teaching team for a cross-disciplinary course on Western culture a few times, and designed a class on the myth of Pygmalion for the Princeton Writing Program. She did research in Florence for a year, finished her dissertation, went on the job market unsuccessfully, and kept teaching whatever she could at Princeton. Then she turned 30. And for the first time, she tried to be practical. How could she make a living, doing what she loved to do? The author sent letters to independent schools in New York, interviewed at a few, and chose a job at Horace Mann, a private school in the Bronx. At one point, while teaching 11th graders, she realized that she knew books, she knew poems, and she knew plays. She knew a lot of ways to talk about books and poems and plays, but she didn't know her students. She didn't know anything about their home lives or what the rest of their days looked like or the things they really cared about. All of her careful notes and ideas about form and influence were irrelevant if she couldn't gain an understanding of the students right in front of her. Since that day, she has been listening carefully. She takes their worries seriously. And she has learned that good teaching is as much about knowing who you are teaching as it is about what you are teaching. After five years of teaching, she was appointed dean of the senior class. The next year she became dean of the ninth grade, and she has now followed that class through four years of high school, while continuing to teach one section of English each year. As a dean, she's the point person for 190 students (and their families). She does what she can to promote their academic, social, and emotional well-being; she guides their academic progress and course selection; she deals with discipline; and she acts as the intermediary between parents and teachers, coaches and advisers. But mostly, she's the person on campus who knows them. What she learned at Princeton, from her teachers in the comparative-literature department and from the volumes in the library, has given her a career she loves and a way of looking at the world that sustains her and brings her joy. Her time in comp lit could not have given her better training, for her work and for her life.
Chronicle of Higher Education. 1255 23rd Street NW Suite 700, Washington, DC 20037. Tel: 800-728-2803; Tel: 202-466-1000; Fax: 202-452-1033; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Italy; New Jersey; New York