The English Teacher who used to Dread English

by Khalics Bryant

Horizon Reporter

You will not find Rhonda Daniels’s story inside of a self-help book at your local bookstore.  Nor will you find it being made into the next “inspirational-true-story” movie in Hollywood, though it reads like both.  Her story, rooted in Bellingham, Washington, is one of hard work, sheer determination, and genuine coincidence.

            Daniels is currently the head of the English Department at Whatcom Community College.  She smiles while reminiscing about her life before “English 101 changed it.”

            “I was a janitor at a local church,” said Daniels.  “I was 30, a single mother, and a high school drop out.  My boss told me if I got my AA I could get a raise.  I think it was like a dollar or something like that,” she says with a slight chuckle.

            Daniels began taking classes at Whatcom while still working full time and taking care of her daughter.

“My daughter was my biggest supporter and motivator,” says Daniels. Without knowing it, Daniels acknowledged that her own work ethic would rub off on her daughter. 

“She would see me working 40 hours a week, going to school and still making time to see every one of her basketball games,” Daniels said.  “I never had to speak with her about working your hardest.  She just knew.”

Daniels tried her best to avoid taking English courses while going to Whatcom.  “I was scared to death of English,” she said.  “I had pretty much taken all the other classes so my advisor said I had to take English if I wanted to continue.”

Daniels landed in the English 101 class of Brian Patterson, the man who would one day mentor her after joining Whatcom’s staff.   It was Patterson that helped influence Daniels to focus on English.

“That blew me away.  I was like wow really?” said Daniels with a surprised look on her face. “That class made me realize I knew more than what I thought.”

From that point Daniels changed her major and finished school at Western Washington University, where she also attended graduate school.

“I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my degree,” said Daniels.  “During my second year I became a teaching assistant and this is when I finally decided what I wanted to do.” After finishing school at Western she returned to Whatcom as staff.

“We all go though moments when we feel we are done or defeated,” says Daniels.  “But those are only moments.”

“My advice is to take a nap or a peaceful walk.  Come back and look at the problem with fresh eyes later. You can get through it,” she says with an uplifting smile.

“I wanted to be a nurse before English 101,” she said.  “It changed my life”

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1. What goes into choosing courses students can take at Whatcom Community College?

 

A: Every student, regardless of major, is required to have 10 to 13 English credits to graduate with an AA from Whatcom. All programs, no matter the major, require English 101. Other English courses help student fulfill humanities requirements.  Instructors come up with ideas for classes.  We discuss, as a department what will be included in the classes’ curriculum.  After an extensive process we submit it for approval. After approved, the class can be taught. This process can take more than nine months.

 

 2. What are students expected to learn in English 101?

A: Critical thinking and analysis, how to utilize sources, MLA citation, how to always consider the larger audience beyond the instructor, the ability to explore sufficient and consequential ideas, how to see both sides of things, and how to understand skillful and ethical resources.

 

3. What does the English Department do to make possibly dull classes more interesting? A: We choose information that is current and interesting to students.  We have classes on a range of issues such as technology, gender, media, environmental issues, even music, from Springsteen to Jay-Z. We try to appeal to what interests people.

 

4. What are some things students should know about taking English courses?

A: One of the biggest things students should realize is that English is not over because the quarter is. English can be utilized in every class.  Many students feel they don’t need it once English class is done. You may find yourself applying for a grant one day; you need to be able to utilize your writing skills.


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