Dec

17

Actual Wisdom: Nancy Workman

Written by

Nancy Workman

Nancy Workman

Tonight’s Actual Wisdom has proof of blatant plagiarism, how unsophisticated Columbia students are, and a defiance of question 5. Meet Nancy Workman:

1. Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer.

I’m quite possibly one of the bestest Core instructors you’ve never heard of.

2. Your claim to fame (what makes you special?):

I’ve been teaching Lit Hum almost continuously since 1999, with one (terrifying) year off to teach CC.  My degree is in Russian literature, but since I’ve been teaching in the Core, I’ve learned Latin and started learning Greek.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of watching students who spent the summer dreading Lit Hum, or who think they aren’t “literature types,” gradually get drawn in by the incredibly rich material we deal with and start to (OK, I’m going to use an unprofessional word) love it.  Reading and rereading the Core syllabus year after year, having conversations about it and reading and responding to student work has been a whole additional education for me.

3. What’s your most valuable or unexpected college experience?

I went to school in Los Angeles but spent a year at Barnard.  Getting to know New York in the gritty  early 80’s—bookstores everywhere, and you could see a double bill of “Yojimbo” and “Seven Samurai” for $5 at the Metro Theater—was a real feast for a carless Californian.  I took a wonderful class at Columbia with the poet Kenneth Koch in which we read verse dramas and wrote imitations of them.  I recently found my final project, a play on the death of Nietzsche in the style of Lord Byron.  I’m sure there’s a way to make money out of that, isn’t there?

4. What’s the craziest student excuse/extension story you’ve heard?

Once I was teaching two sections of Lit Hum at the same time and had two roommates, one in each section.  They both wrote papers on the same topic.  When they handed in revisions, Roommate A had used an unusual font, and Roommate B’s revised paper had some additions that were not only almost identical to things in A’s paper, but were inserted in that same unusual font (though the rest of B’s paper was in a normal font).  It was almost as if B had helpfully highlighted for me all the things he had copied from A.  When I confronted B, he told me the font switched back and forth because he had worked on the paper on more than one computer.

5. Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? 

As an adjunct, I’m not eligible for tenure, so in fairness I should be allowed to keep both oral sex AND cheese.

6. Back in my day…

When I was in grad school, there were several major protests on campus, from building a shantytown on the steps to two separate instances of chaining shut and blockading Hamilton (once renamed “Mandela”) Hall.  I was somewhat surprised when “Occupy Columbia” failed to happen last spring—but perhaps I should have noticed times have changed.

One other major difference: it used to be possible to sit on the steps of an evening and drink a beer right out of the bottle.

7. Three things you learned at Columbia:

  1. Contrary to what I used to think, it isn’t impossible for an ordinary mortal to learn Ancient Greek.  You just need really big flash cards.
  2. Teaching is a skill you develop over time and never entirely master, and even the best teachers have strengths and weaknesses.  You’re entitled to play to your own strengths and to have your own voice.
  3. Columbia students may seem sophisticated, but if you have them over to your house for a review session, don’t get all fancy with the Italian sodas, unless you want to throw out a lot of ¾-full cans of limonata.

8. What’s your advice to students/academics/the human race in general?

It’s good to keep finding ways to be a beginner at something, or to persist in some pursuit that interests you but doesn’t come entirely naturally.  Don’t get too comfortable.

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9 Comments

  1. Anonymous  

    Dr Workman was the best thing about my freshman year. never since have i had such a caring professor or engaging seminar.

  2. This is my favorite quote about columbia students ever

    "Columbia students may seem sophisticated, but if you have them over to your house for a review session, don’t get all fancy with the Italian sodas, unless you want to throw out a lot of ¾-full cans of limonata."

  3. so size does matter  

    7,1 ! I can learn Ancient Greek!

  4. This woman  

    is the best. What a freshman year she gave me. Thanks, Nancy!

  5. anon  

    she is one of the greatest professors I've ever had!e

  6. Anonymous  

    nancy workman is one of the professors that makes columbia great. she quietly and conscientiously devotes herself to turning wet-behind-the-ears freshmen into college students. she doesn't get the glory that a foner does, but i daresay she does more for this school that desperately needs more instructors like her.

  7. Anonymous  

    "I’m quite possibly one of the bestest Core instructors you’ve never heard of."
    ^ Truth

  8. Anonymous

    i thought that lit hum with workman was just the beginning of that sort of classroom experience. if only i'd known it was as good as it gets.

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