When North Lake College English professor Brandi Harris was in graduate school, she struggled to relate to the old, obscure “great novels” that teachers have been assigning for generations. They didn’t connect with any experiences in her own life, and they weren’t as enjoyable as the science fiction and fantasy stories she loved.
When it was time to teach her own English classes, Harris was told to use the same classics – which she did for a time. However, she eventually devoted her energy to creating classes focused on her own favorite literature.
“I got really bored teaching the same stuff over and over again,” Harris says now.
Now, as an English professor at North Lake College, Harris teaches books she cares about – and makes sure to connect the readings and assignments to her students’ lives. This approach, in addition to her teaching skills, are why she was recently awarded two of the highest honors available to North Lake professors: the Teacher of the Year award, voted on by students, and the title of 2018-19 President’s Scholar.
Heroes, villains, wizards, and myths
This spring, Harris will teach English 1301, Composition I, with a focus on fairy tales, myths, conspiracy theories, and urban legends. Students will analyze informational literacy – how to tell truth from rumors and deception, especially in a social media age rife with hoaxes and “fake news.”
In English 1302, which Harris will also teach in spring 2019, students explore a reading list built around the core idea of “Heroes and Villains.” Harris’s third class and most advanced course this spring is English 2342, Forms of Literature I. But “Forms of Literature” isn’t the name students will know it by. They prefer to use its informal name: “Reading Harry Potter.”
Hogwarts at North Lake
The Harry Potter class has gotten the most attention in the North Lake community – and it’s a good example of how Harris makes literary theory accessible to her students. Students read all seven Harry Potter books during the class, each through the lens of a different interpretive style – such as feminist theory, psychoanalysis, or deconstruction. The idea is to introduce students to literary interpretation techniques using a story that they already know and love.
Harris explains, “If you’re going to look at hard stuff like otherness and postcolonialism and gender theory, you may as well do it with a text that you’re comfortable with, so that you can push those boundaries and those critical thinking skills without being uncomfortable on two levels.”
Harris’s expertise on all things Potter has earned her a reputation around campus. She recently gave a speech to the North Lake chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society – about real-world lessons students can learn from the Harry Potter series.
There’s more to come
Spring 2019 might be focused on heroes, villains, urban legends, and wizardry, but each semester means something different for Harris’s students. Harris is planning a future class on horror literature and monsters. She usually teaches the Hunger Games trilogy and other dystopian fiction in the fall. In a science fiction-focused course, she assigns novels like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, a love story which has become a student favorite.
Courses like these, and reading assignments like the Potter novels, are a big part of why Brandi Harris’s English classes are some of the most popular at NLC. View Harris’s spring 2019 class schedule, or the full schedule of English classes at NLC.