By Christa Verem
Welcome to Deep Down in the Classroom’s newest feature Meet Our Colleague, where we showcase the teachers that inspire our students daily. For our inaugural profile we’re spending time with Kathy Curto, whose book Not for Nothing: Glimpses Into a Jersey Girlhood was published December, 2018. Read on to learn more about Kathy, her teaching beginnings, and how she finds time for her passions and the paper load.
How did you get started teaching?
I discovered teaching back in 2004 when my youngest child turned four, I re-entered the full-time, out-of-the-home workforce and took a job as a professor of sociology at a small college in Rockland County, New York. About six years into this job, I returned to grad school and earned the MFA so I could teach writing at the college level as well. (My first career out of college and grad school in the early 90s was social work. I was Program Director at a community- based organization in the South Bronx.)
What do you appreciate about teaching?
Hands-down, it is the students and their stories.
What do you find challenging about teaching?
I read my student’s work, dig in deep and take great care with their words. I try my best to honor their styles as writers and am mindful about offering suggestions and revisions. Obviously when there are mechanical errors that needs to be addressed in order to make the writing as clear as it can be. As far as grading creative writing, I try to help students craft work that captivates readers and keeps them turning the page.
Do you have a teaching moment or experience you’re particularly proud of?
Not really one in particular. I do remember the first time a student looked up and said to me, “I never really thought about it like that” and, in that moment, it seemed as though I could see his mind stretching and opening right in front of my eyes. That little minute made its mark on me. I also absolutely love when students stay in touch and keep me posted on where their paths lead.
What is your favorite unit to teach?
I especially love teaching Creative Nonfiction and Memoir.
Where do you find teaching inspiration from?
My own teachers-current and past. I also find inspiration in everyday life, from news stories to intentional and unintentional works of art all around us. And, finally, the connections and bonds I have in my own life, with mentors, colleagues, friends and family, influence how I design lessons as well.
How do you manage the paper load?
Deep breaths and time management. When I have a particularly heavy week with a lot of student reading, I try (and don’t always succeed) to do a few a day instead of the “locking myself up in a lonely room and grading for hours and hours and hours” approach.
If you weren’t teaching what career would you pursue?
Honestly, engaged, active teaching does entail so many skills, so I feel as though the work is multi-dimensional already. I use my social work training as well as my skills as a mother, an activist and even a community organizer, too. Of course, I do have days where I fantasize about writing and doing only that, but realistically speaking, I know the kind of person I am. I do need people around me, too. I learn from others and listen closely to their stories and that feeds my work and my process.
What other intellectual, artistic or personal pursuits are you working on?
I’m interested in the way music stays with us and drives memory. I’m also fascinated by how the senses guide us, in the present but also how they help us remember. A few other things, I am curious about: the way food connects us as human beings and the stories we have about food in our lives, how loss and grief can prompt writing and the value of telling and listening to life stories.
On a personal level I work to stay patient and open-minded about the micro and macro aspects of being a human in this world.
How do you find time for these other pursuits?
I make notes a lot, there are many Post-it Notes in my universe. I also try to remind myself that the daily To-Do list is simply a suggestion. And sometimes the day offers a whole new set of opportunities that can be unexpected chances to learn and discover.
How do you spend your summers?
I love the beach and try to visit as much as I can. I also enjoy the slower pace of summer which means lazy outdoor meals and reveling in the warmth of the sun. Also add to this list spending time with friends and family in an unhurried way. Travel and, oh yes, good books!
What are you reading?
I just finished Becoming by Michelle Obama and I loved it.
I listen to all different music. My son just bought the Abbey Road on vinyl and I put that on this morning.
I am more of a movie person than a television show person. On a flight home from Vietnam last week I watched The Green Book, Moana and Life Itself.
What’s your ideal Saturday?
Coffee and the paper, early in the morning. Maybe writing a card or a letter to someone, followed by a long walk through our town and in the woods. Then shopping for groceries to cook a meal for people I love.
A full day on a beach.
Favorite local spot?
On campus? I like hanging on the benches next to University Hall.
Favorite Jersey beach?
Where would you like to travel?
I’ve never been to Greece and would love to visit there someday.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Just a hearty “thank you” for inviting me to share some thoughts and insights!
Thank you Kathy! For more information about Kathy’s book, please visit Not for Nothing: Glimpses Into a Jersey Girlhood.