What do you do in your current role?
My current role is as a university lecturer at the University of Southeastern Norway, and my current job is teaching literature but also teaching grammar and upcoming teachers. So I’m teaching them, basically, how to be teachers and how to teach English.
So, a combination of teaching people and teaching teachers to teach people, essentially?
Yes, and those teachers are in a program where they’re not teaching at the moment. So, they’ll become teachers after this.
So, what do you enjoy most about it?
Teaching literature is obviously a lot of fun, but I also love watching the students become better at what they need to progress on and what they didn’t think they enjoyed or didn’t think they would be able to do. I’ve had students tell me that they see a very different side of literature that they hadn’t seen before because they thought they’d hated literature. But then, seeing how they end up enjoying English, at the many levels of English...that’s really nice.
Can you explain how you got into it - what you studied and how your studies helped you into your current role?
The first time I started studying, I studied English literature simply because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I thought, 'If I want to be a teacher, it’s probably handy to know English, because that’s the language I speak.' After that, I did my master’s in English literature as well, and what I wanted to do was become what is called a 'reader of literature', where you just teach literature and be this fancy professor somewhere, talking about books. And then, I thought, “Well, everybody wants to be that, so I need something else.” So, I did a pedagogics course, which is a one-year course, and what that gives you is the possibility to teach English. So, then, I ended up being hired by the lecturer I had in that course.
Why do you think teaching is important for the world?
I know that a lot of people don’t think that teaching literature, specifically, is useful. But teaching English is obviously useful because it’s a world language, so everybody needs to talk in English at some point -- even if you’re a construction worker, you have workers from overseas, so they need to know English.
But for the literature part, that’s important because it gives you a very critical insight into the world from a different angle. So, you can approach the world critically, looking at how other people are feeling, why other people are feeling what they’re feeling. You get insight into cultures, critical thinking, and a new perspective on life that you might not get through just a history book - which, obviously, is a great way to learn history. But, for students who struggle with memorizing history, being able to read about it in literature form, where it’s a story, is quite helpful. You still get the whole package without memorizing dates.
And I suppose it plays quite well into film, as well. You can read a book and then watch a film, or vice versa...
Yes, and a lot of students tend to say they don’t like reading books, but when they watch the film, they really enjoy the film. So you can read a smaller chapter from a book, and then you can find some new joy in something that you already like -- the film, for example.
What advice would you give to people aspiring to study English literature and/or study with hopes of eventually becoming a teacher?
For literature, just actually do the reading. Read the books that you’re supposed to read, because in one of my lectures we had a book that nobody in my class liked and my lecturer was furious. She said that “You’re not here to have fun; you’re here to study literature. It’s like studying law: nobody that studies to become a lawyer loves reading the law, but you need to be able to read books that you don’t like.” So, just be aware that you won’t love everything.
And, if you want to become a teacher and study for that, actually participate in every lesson. I tell my students that it’s quite awkward being a teacher and nobody raises their hands when you ask questions, and students becoming teachers also don’t always raise their hands because they’re scared. So they need to figure out that this level of trust that you want with your students, you should have with your professor or your lecturer. So, raise your hand, but also just give it everything you’ve got, because I think that sitting there and not participating and not trying everything you can as a teacher - that won’t help you. So, try everything you can, take every chance you get to be a teacher, even if it’s just a small school or in your practicum. But do everything you can.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Everybody should become teachers. I mean, we need them, and especially teachers of English, because we need people who know English to teach it. And taking a course in English is always useful, because you get a critical insight if you have to study literature, and you also get the grammar and the linguistical knowledge through the language. I have students taking a one-year course, which is helpful for anything -- critical skills or speaking skills, for example.