Dr. Fran Fitch is a woman who has worked for three and a half decades as an English teacher, in recent years here at the College of DuPage. She was more than happy to take part in an interview about her career field. I spoke with her last week to find out much about how her career as an English teacher had affected her.
Dr. Fitch has been a teacher for 35 years. For undergraduate school, she went to Southern Illinois University for about four years, starting in 1960. In 1964, she graduated from SIU, earning her Bachelor’s degree in English. For a couple of years she worked for a book publishing company, and in 1967 got her first teaching job as a high school teacher at Lyons Township High School. She taught there until 1977, and the next year got a job as a teaching assistant at Purdue University in West Lafayette, a job that lasted until 1982. Having gone back to study for her Master’s degree a few years back, she earned it in 1980 from the same school, Purdue.
From 1983 to 1985 she was a graduate instructor
at Purdue University in Hammond. In 1989, after completing yet more studying,
she received a Ph.D. in English Literature, the degree earned at Purdue. Not too
long after, she began her teaching career at College of DuPage and has taught a
variety of courses in the English department, including English 101, 102, 103,
105, 130, 150 and 225.
I asked Dr. Fitch a number of questions during the course of the interview. Having had her for both English 101 and 102, I was aware that, her being a very creative person, I would get the most out of the interview by asking questions that would take real thought.
Having gotten the questions about her formal education out of the way, I began by asking her, “What are the best and worst things about being an English teacher?” Her reply was that the best thing was actually the challenges; trying to help others succeed in what they did. Then she added, “The worst part, I think, is failing to rise to the challenge, or to help others achieve. They’re anxieties that teachers have.”
(Personally, I think that another major anxiety would be having to go down to the cafeteria and eat processed cow patties, those pseudo-burgers they call food.)
I asked, “Other than English writing and literature courses, which other courses did you find helped you the most?” The first three that came to mind were “history, art and psychology … a person needs a well-rounded education.” She emphasized that people should have both classes that take creativity, and classes that simply take learning facts and doing research.
After that, I wondered, “What’s her favorite book or author?” Thankfully, I wondered aloud, so she was able to reply to the query. James Joyce’s "Ulysses" was her reply; she mentioned that it was the book she did her dissertation on when studying for her English Literature degree. She said that she had liked reading it and enjoyed doing a paper about it.
Deciding it was time to ask something “deeper,” I posed this question to Dr. Fitch: “What would you describe as being the biggest difference between a good writer and a great one?” She rose to the occasion (though she didn’t rise from her chair) with a well-thought-out reply: “A great writer addresses his age that is his particular moment in time, and can see past it or that which is transcendent.”
Checking to see if I had gotten the gist of it, I asked, “So what you mean is that a great writer understands that which others in his current age do not? They can envision what the future holds, even if others in his time do not have that foresight?” Chuckling, Dr. Fitch said, “Paraphrasing what I said…very good. You understood it.” She added, “A good writer can see around corners.”
“In your opinion what’s the most important quality that a
writer can have?”
“Being a good reader. It’s like speaking; you have to be able to listen as well as talk. Also, a good writer can read or understand others in ways that they can’t read themselves.”
Pressing on, I asked, “If you hadn’t been an English teacher, what career would you possibly be doing instead?” With little hesitation, she said that she might have become an historian or perhaps even an archeologist. Though sometimes she feels that she would like to be an artist. Dr. Fitch didn’t give a lot of comment on why these fields held an interest for her, but I didn’t delve deeper into it. So we moved on.
“So,” I said, “what one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?” The reply was sort of multi-faceted; she had a couple comments on the question. “Be kind to yourself, certainly,” she said. “Be tolerant of failures and weaknesses and keep going anyway.”
What she said next was little short of inspired: “Writing is a constant effort, so people have to build a tolerance for human failure, and people give up because they beat themselves up.” What it boiled down to, as far as she was concerned, was basically “Have fun! Everyone fails, but those who persevere are the ones who succeed.”
Dr. Fitch, right at the end, threw a fact out of the blue: “I’m retiring after the end of next year, you know.” I replied, “I didn’t know. After 35 years it’s time to finally say goodbye, eh?” She replied, “Yeah. It’s kind of like, ‘You are the Oldest Link, goodbye!”
As for me, I say that if anyone can last for 35 years doing something they have a passion for, more power to them. Who cares how old you are—if you have a good mind to think and the heart to do it, what’s stopping you? (Except for those dreadful hamburgers, of course.)