Stephanie Liberatore, English Department
BY AUDREY MORALES STAFF WRITER
Mason alum, professor and writer Stephanie Liberatore has been teaching at Mason for 9 years ever since her MFA Program. “So, I basically came as a graduate student and never left,” said Liberatore.
This year you are teaching a decolonization format, how is that different from the previous format you had? What are the benefits from teaching in this format?
Over the summer, I read a terrific book called, “The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How To Decolonize the Creative Classroom” by Felicia Rose Chavez. It is a terrific book, I think for any teacher, writing especially. But just thinking about her practices in the classroom and how to open those spaces up. There are a couple of things that I am doing that are different from previous formats, one thing that I got from that book is check-ins.
Check-ins are essentially asking how each student is doing in the very beginning of every class. Students can share as much or as little as they want.
Just to build community and to make all students feel seen and heard and valued. I feel like — like in our class [ENGH 486], that has made our class, the fact that we do those check-ins, we know each other, it matters to us how we are doing.
And I do [check-ins] in my lit classes and my comp classes even though they are not creative writing courses and I think it makes a huge difference.
What are your goals for teaching students overall?
I want my students to feel more empowered in their writing abilities by the end of the semester. For some reason, school has a way of beating our voice out of us, it has a way of wearing a lot of us down and I want my students to see themselves as writers because even if you’re not a Creative Writing major or Rhetoric major, you are writing everyday. I want my students to see themselves as writers and to know that just because they write a bad first draft doesn’t mean they are a bad writer, that’s just how writing works. So, my biggest goal as a writing teacher is to demystify the writing process. To show that really good writing is not necessarily the result of talent but of persistence and of revision. So, I think empowering my students to see themselves as writers and to see how important persistence and revision are, and I think that is true of writing and of life.
What are your favorite memories from teaching at Mason?
My first year teaching, I was on a non-renewable contract, so that meant I was here for one year and then I had to interview again. I can’t remember how it came up, but I guess we were doing evaluations and a student asked me something and I was like, ‘Well you know, I am actually on a one-year contract and it ends like now.” And they were like ‘What?’ and so they banded together and wrote this really kind letter and they all signed it and sent it to the chair of my department and it made me cry because it was so sweet of them. It was such a nice moment to know that the students cared enough that they wanted me to stay. So, that was really lovely.
How has being a professor at Mason helped you with your own writing?
So much! This is one of the reasons why I love teaching because I feel like if you ever want to learn something better, you should try to teach it to someone else. And so, I feel like teaching at Mason, getting to teach creative writing, getting to teach flash [nonfiction], trying to teach forms that I am trying to write myself, makes me pay attention to them more, makes me read more widely, and it just invigorates me as a writer. Writing can be very isolating when you’re doing it alone and it’s just so nice to not only get to read, write, and think about it, but also to see my students do it and to hear them talk about it. They teach me things too. They have such great insights about the things we read and they are writing such cool stuff. It’s cool to see other people approach the same thing you are trying to do, you can only get better by seeing different ways of doing it. Teaching writing has absolutely made me a better writer.
In some ways though, it also makes it hard to write because teaching is so time consuming, that it kind of has a way of filling all the available space, so then there is not a lot of space left for your own creative work. That’s been a challenge for me, as a teacher, to try to figure out how to still put my own work and my own creative self ahead of my teaching stuff, which is hard for me as a conscientious person.
So it challenges it in some ways, but that has made me more efficient with my time, but it a hundred percent has made me a better writer to teach it, I love teaching it. I think even if I won the lottery I would still teach because it’s very invigorating and you guys are young and cool and it’s just very inspiring to be around young writers and to talk about writing everyday.