Steven Ray Parker M.A. Literature, 2001 M.Ed. Educational Leadership, 2011
8th Grade English and Yearbook
English Department Chair
Science Olympiad Coach: Write It, Do It Team
Kinard Core Knowledge Middle School
Mentoring Advisory Board: Poudre School District
National Writing Project Fellow
How did your major prepare you for the job, the life you have now?
Having an M.A. in Literature has tremendously prepared me for teaching the content that I do. Core Knowledge schools are rigorous, and we read novels, nonfiction, and poetry that are above grade level. I am able to approach literary works from a theoretical standpoint, without ever having to say, “Hey, kids! Today we’re focusing on this passage from Twelfth Night through the lens of New Historicism.” Although I don’t discuss theory with 8th Graders, I incorporate it through my lessons and how we approach works of Literature. I also gained an incredibly broad repertoire of works and themes from different periods due to the preparation for M.A. Comprehensive Exams.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)?
Many of my greatest accomplishments are centered around kids. I’ve had students win scholarships because of their work. I’ve had students speak at large events because of their work. Whenever one of my students is successful, and they get to experience something outside the four walls of our classroom, I consider that to be an accomplishment that cannot be matched. Personally, making the decision to return to school in 2009 to receive my M.Ed. and Teaching License was a major step for me in my life. Now, I can’t imagine not being a teacher.
How did your experience in the English Department help you with these achievements?
The seminars in the M.A. program were always collaborative. Many of the projects that were presented in my classes were in groups. Learning how to work with a peer, at a high level of trust and knowledge, very much informed how I approach teaching. I also cannot overstress the tools of literary analysis I gained at CSU. Literary theory informs everything I do. Almost all of my professors in my grad seminars encouraged theoretical approaches.
What did you like about the English program?
I enjoyed everything about the M.A. program. I even enjoyed taking the Poetry Comp and the Final Comprehensive Exams! I met amazing people, students and professors, who made my time at CSU truly sublime.
Why did you choose to study here?
During my senior year at the University of North Texas, I had applied to various graduate programs around the country. A few friends of mine had moved from Denton, TX to Fort Collins a year before. They had begun Little Guys Movers in Denton and then looked around the country for a college town where they could do the same. After they moved to Fort Collins, I visited a few times. Like so many, I fell in love with Fort Collins. I added CSU to my list of applications. I was also drawn to the idea of attending a grad program that had a terminal Master’s degree. I wasn’t sure, when I first began my applications, if I wanted to move past an M.A. to a Ph.D.
I was also drawn to CSU because of two particular professors. I knew I wanted to focus on Modernist Poetry in my thesis. I had read articles about Ezra Pound by Dr. Carol Cantrell, and I was impressed by the level of detail and literary theory that informed Dr. Cantrell’s work. I had also read a book of poetry by Professor Laura Mullen. Her poetry, her work with Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson, and feminist theory were instrumental in my decision to eventually write about Gertrude Stein and Queer Theory.
When you started graduate school, was eventually teaching at a middle school your goal?
I did not plan on teaching at all, much less at a middle school, when I began my M.A. program at CSU. I started to consider applying to Ph.D. programs. I also thought about finding a job in the field of arts administration. During my second year, I worked closely with Professor Mary Crow, then Poet Laureate of Colorado, in initiating the state’s first Poetry in Motion project, which placed poetry and art placards inside Transfort buses. Running art and poetry contests, working as the liaison between CSU, Poudre School District, and the city of Fort Collins, and planning the celebration for selected poets and artists were all outstanding opportunities, and I became enamored with the possibility of working with artists. In the ten years between receiving my M.A. and going back to school for my M.Ed. and Teaching Licensure, I worked in retail management. During a time of personal change—a health scare and the loss of a dear friend to cancer—I decided to follow my heart. I knew I wanted to work with kids. I knew I wanted to bring my content knowledge of literature and literary theory to a classroom. I knew I wanted to be a teacher who taught about being a citizen in our democracy, about fighting bias, about building self-esteem. Little did I know that teaching was so much more than those things . . . and that it would become a mission, not just a job.
Do you have a favorite or funny story from your time with the English Department? Or something you particularly miss?
There are too many “funny” stories that come to mind when I think of those years in the M.A. Program. There is a house on Edwards Street that, for years, was rented out to English grad students. There was a basement apartment in which I lived for a few years; the upstairs apartment had two bedrooms. When I first moved in, Jill Darling and Laura Merrill (now Riehle-Merrill) lived upstairs. While I was there, Trish (Klei) Barribeau and Nicole (Ashton) Harrison also lived upstairs. It was a house where many English grad students gathered, both M.A. and M.F.A. Many lively conversations and MANY late nights.
During my first year in the program, the original 90210 was coming to a close, after ten amazing years! I remember mentioning in Dr. Sebek’s “Methods” course that I can no longer watch anything on television or film and not immediately evaluate it through a critical lens. I knew I was in great company when my peers laughed (with me) when I mentioned that I was using Foucault to break down the systems in 90210.
Was there a specific class, professor, advisor, or fellow student who made an impression on you, helped you, or inspired you when you were at CSU in the English Department? Do you still keep in contact with your classmates or professors?
My advisor, Dr. Carol Cantrell, made an incredible impression on me. Until she retired, she remained focused on current theory. Her work with Modernist Poets informed much of what I did in my thesis. Other professors that I looked to for guidance were Dr. Barb Sebek, Dr. Ellen Brinks, Dr. Sarah Sloane, and Dr. Paul Trembath. I took three classes with Dr. Sebek. We have remained close friends . . . almost twenty years of conversations, bowling, and hockey games. Particular classes that I remember were Laura Mullen’s “Gertrude Stein, Emily Dickinson, and Feminist Theory,” Dr. Sebek’s “Early Modern Women Writers,” Dr. Brinks’ “19th Century British Literature – the Romantics and the Victorians,” and Mary Crow’s “Latin American Poetry.” I am still in contact with many of my fellow students who were in the program during that time. Although most are scattered around the world, I do my best (as do they) to stay in touch. We lost a dear friend in 2010, Kelly Jo (Cockburn) Feinberg, to cancer. Since then, I would say many of my friendships have grown stronger. I value any time that I’m able to see Sarah Dodson-Knight, Amanda (Gordon) Henkel, Amy Marshall Clark, and Eileen Munzo.
What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students?
In many ways, the program is what you make it. No one in my cohort was writing about queer theory. I made myself that niche when I wanted to use Gertrude Stein’s poetry to bridge the gap between LGBTQIA Studies and Queer Theory. Find professors who value what you do. They’re there! I’ve become friends with professors that are now at CSU that were not there in 2001. The department is a rich place, flowing with innovative ideas and enthusiasm. Get involved! Even if you are teaching CO150, take on an internship. Explore Fort Collins. Have themed dinner parties. Call everything a “panopticon.”
What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students?
Do not limit yourself when thinking about life after CSU. Keep your mind open. I would have never thought that I’d be teaching middle school. And, now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. And make sure you turn that GS-6 in on time (if that’s still a “thing”).
What was the last piece of writing you read or wrote? OR, What are you currently reading, writing?
I have been reading Simon Sinek’s books on leadership. A colleague and I are creating a class for new teachers in Poudre School District that will, hopefully, assist them in getting through those first few years . . . years that can often bring disillusionment. Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last are two of Sinek’s books that I believe any teacher, regardless of the age of their students, should read. I’m also reading Here I Am Jonathan Safran Foer and The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst.
What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
During the school year, I have limited “free time.” I enjoy attending Colorado Eagles’ games. If I have a chance to see live music in the venues around Northern Colorado, I am filled with glee. I look forward to board game nights and long dinner parties with friends.
Where will we find you in five years?
I will still be teaching. I might be back in Texas, or I might be here in Poudre School District. The dreamer in me sees me teaching English in Cassis, France, my most favorite place in the world . . . a small fishing village on the Mediterranean with multi-hued houses and diving rocks.