Jessica Smock on ...
October 04, 2021
Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?
I would choose Joan Didion. She is a master at the craft of writing. Her essays and books are brilliant, and she has a lifetime of experience in so many facets of the writing and publishing world. I would love to spend a year working on my own writing style and craft with her as my guide.
What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?
My dad taught my siblings and me about the importance of empathy and tolerance by telling us many times to "never judge another person unless you've walked a mile in his moccasins." He tried to make us understand that it's impossible to know everything about someone else's life story, and consequently we should try to understand other people instead of judge them.
Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?
I would send them to either New York or London, huge multicultural and international cities with endless opportunities for exploring and for introducing art and culture. From food, music, fashion, art, and history, both cities can provide weeks of entertainment and education.
When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?
In high school, I decided to drop out of AP Calculus because my grades were not good and I was overwhelmed. I had always done well in math, with minimal effort and little interest in the subject. But Calculus was different. I felt like I was in way over my head and like I was the only one who was struggling. Instead of asking for help from the teacher, I decided to drop to a lower level math class. Looking back on that experience, I regret that I gave up at the first sign of struggle and have a great deal of empathy for students -- often girls -- who get frustrated with math.
Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?
I became a teacher because I loved learning, school, and education myself. Initially, I thought that teaching would be a very temporary profession for me, until I returned to a doctoral program that I had started. But I found that I enjoyed the challenge of teaching and of working with kids. Teaching -- whether at the elementary, secondary, or college level -- is a much harder and more rewarding profession than I expected.