Leah Middlebrook

Comparative Literature

middlebr@uoregon.edu | 541-346-3103

Courses: COLT 102, COLT 302, COLT 407 + upper division courses in SPAN

In my courses you will:

  • Practice foundational, transferrable skills.
  • Understand what it means to be at a research university with the chance to gain new knowledge.
  • Explore new perspectives.

I was invited into the Teaching Academy because:

  • I am an Ersted Award Recipient.
  • I am a Herman Award Recipient.
  • I was a member of the Working Group on Active Teaching and Learning.

In what ways are you working to make your teaching inclusive?

My research area is one of those fields that people often categorize as "hard," and even intimidating: I work on poetry, a variety of literature that seems to present special obstacles that I call, half-joking, "poetry anxiety."

I have special incentive to develop strategies to help students feel included in the conversation around poetry, not only because I want them to do well in my classes, but because in my experience most people secretly crave poetry —it's a form that is fundamental to the human experience of being in the world. My job is to teach people to trust their instincts around poetic language and to start to follow prompts, sparks of insight and threads of meaning.

I also teach students to notice how powerfully poetic rhythms work to structure our day-to-day experience. It's not an exaggeration to say that we are, all of us, swimming in poetry all the time. When we notice that, "schoolroom," technical skills such as scansion come more easily. And when we can deploy those skills, it's off to the races (how's that for a stack of mixed metaphors?). Just as important —maybe more important, here in Oregon, where we are multi-lingual but English-dominant: I greet my students in a variety of languages on the first day of class, and I will conduct office hour consultations with students in English or Spanish, depending on the student's choice. As a comparatist and a humanist, I think it is important to remember that culture is polylingual and also translingual. Furthermore, my work is anchored in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. That was a period in which most people spoke a variety of languages, depending on the context (Andalusí and Castilian at home, for example, and Latin, French, English, Italian and Castilian at court, etc.).

What do you do in terms of professional engagement with the teaching and learning culture on campus or nationally?

My colleague Robert Davis (RL) and I have long collaborated on pedagogy. We have run and also participated in workshops in Huelva, Spain, on poetry as a resource for L2 learners. I also work closely with the Spanish Heritage Learners' program in the Romance Languages Department. I have drawn from both of those experiences, and also from various teaching and learning blogs and from workshops and programs at TEP to create the position of Director of Pedagogy in the Comparative Literature Department. Our unit takes pedagogy seriously: faculty and GEs work closely on issues of course design, harmonizing learning objectives with assessments, and striking a balance between field-specific projects and assignments that help students master key transferable skills that support their agility in a world that still makes heavy demands in terms of writing, but which favors short forms and digital platforms over extensive research papers and monographs. I follow teaching and learning blogs and keep an eye on the offerings of the Academy of American Poets, which offers a rich panoply of resources: lesson plans, suggested readings, exercises to scaffold engagement with more complicated poems.

In what ways was your teaching in this course research-led—informed by research on how students learn and inflected by UO's research mission?

All of my courses, and all the courses offered under the COLT rubric, articulate specific goals for student learning. We structure small-group discussions and activities, offer ample space for reflection on learning and invite creative engagement aimed at sparks of insight and interpretation. In addition, faculty and GEs in the Comparative Literature Department are attentive to the fact that a course syllabus presents an image of what knowledge and authority look like. So we ask ourselves: Who looks like they are in charge of the conversation that is represented on this syllabus? Is there a balance of perspectives, of voices, not only in the primary texts students will examine in this course, but in the secondary sources --the theorists, critics and experts?

What is your proudest professional achievement?

Being privileged to share in the lives and careers of my students is simultaneously the proudest and the most humbling of my professional achievements. It is an honor to get to know so many fascinating, thoughtful people, year-in, year-out, just when they are beginning to make the choices that will shape their adult contributions to the world. Right now, I am in close touch with one former student who is gearing up for tenure in a research university, another who works to support equity and pay equality in women’s athletics, another who is a poet living overseas and another who is working as a preschool teacher as he writes a memoir. I run into former students in the grocery store; they are now the parents of small children. Some are skilled chefs giving it a go in the Portland food cart scene, some are in bands and touring up and down the west coast and beyond. I think most any teacher will tell you that that's the aspect of the job that keeps us getting up in the morning. The younger generation is truly an awesome crew in their ingenuity, their compassion and their appreciation for the collective. I'm proud to know some of them.