When it comes to college professors, I’m guilty of classifying them all as the hard professor, the easy professor, or my personal favorite, the crazy professor. I’m sure some of you ladies have done the same. But this semester, I met someone in a category of her own. I tried my luck by enrolling in Kara Manning’s literature class. Against my better judgment, I didn’t even check RateMyProffessor.com before enrolling. (gasp)
She’s a graduate instructor specializing in Nineteenth Century British Literature. Her knowledge of literature is quite impressive. And, oh yeah, she’s covered with facial piercings and body tattoos. Her hair is edgy with a variety of colors. She not what society expects an instructor to look like; she’s not what I expected an instructor to look like.
After listening to her and watching her perform in class, I realized that she is an amazing instructor and very educated. She actually used her appearance to help us understand literature. Reading people based solely on their appearance is similar to understanding the different texts in literature. After a few classes, I could tell a difference in my critical thinking process. If you ever encounter a professor, or anyone who seems “different” from what you think they should be, it’s time for you to reevaluate what learning is about. As I interview Kara, I get a better understanding of her views on life, education, and professionalism. Expect the unexpected. She is what I consider the modern professor. By modern I mean, the rejection of what is traditionally accepted or expected.
A few days before Spring Break, I meet Kara Manning in the English Department’s grad students’ office. Like every other grad student, she’s caught pecking at her keyboard, completing tasks that I imagine are a part of her daily routine as a graduate instructor and doctoral candidate. We leave the office, so we don’t disturb the other graduate students, and walk to a sitting area down the hall.
HCSM: Okay, where are you from exactly?
Manning: I’m from upstate New York. Upstate refers to anything that’s not the city—pretty much the whole state.
HCSM: What was your major in college?
Manning: I changed majors, and I actually left college for a while. I graduated college in 1999. Yea, I’m 30 now. When I returned to college, I was studying English.
HCSM: Really? So, when did you realize that you wanted to teach?
Manning: Probably… You want a year and specific moment? I’m going to say around 2004. This is kind of a lengthy story. My original plan during high school was to become a stage actor, so I went into theater as an undergraduate. In my third semester, I realized something just wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. I left school for a while and tried some other things. I had a couple of different jobs. I decided to get my license to do hair. I said, “Okay, I have this hands on outlet, I’m going to work at a hair salon, and put myself through school until I figure out what it is…” So I took a few classes at a community college—mostly literature—and I was like, this is it!
HCSM: How would you describe your style of teaching?
Manning: Fundamentally, as most teachers, my ultimate concern is to impart certain information and ideas to students in the best way possible. For me, that means knowing my audience and having strategies in place that I feel will be best to get students to arrive at certain conclusions. As far as my teaching philosophy goes, I don’t want to just tell you guys the right answers.
HCSM: That is important. What makes you unique from other instructors?
Manning: In terms of that philosophy, I don’t think I’m unique. Most teachers, I hope, put the students first and have their best interest at heart. I think the way I look, obviously, but that’s a surface thing. It’s not really a unique quality. It’s a potential difficulty to get students to, not necessarily respect me, but understand that what they think a teacher should look like isn’t necessarily what the real world is like.
HCSM: What are your views on women and education?
Manning: I’ve noticed women are becoming more predominant in classrooms. It’s a wonderful shift from the trend when women weren’t even able to go to college. It’s good that more woman view college as a possibility, and any career path they choose as a possibility. The southern area seems to encourage that less than where I am from. It’s good to disprove that stereotype. “I’m just here to get my husband.” I have yet to hear that from a student.
HCSM: How do you view college professionalism as a woman?
Manning: Professionalism at its root is dependent on what you’re doing. For instance, my offering to have this interview with you is a part of what I think is professional for me to do as an instructor. As a graduate student, it’s kind of my responsibility to help out a student who has a request for me and put out the voice of graduate instructors, especially since I’m a woman, and especially since maybe I’m a little different from other teachers in some ways. When we hear professionalism, I think a lot of people probably think suit, tie, structured buttoned up jacket, vest or something, even for women. It comes down to what someone looks like. The external appearance labels you. It creates that identity, but really professionalism comes from what you do on the job or what’s appropriate.
HCSM: What advice would you give this generation of college women?
Manning: Dispel that Idea of going to school for an MRS Degree, and don’t limit yourself according to what family and friends say. Making choices based on what makes you happy is really important. Embrace the experience. Embrace the education. Take from it every good thing that you can, and then get a job!
HCSM: That’s great advice. Do you have any special words that you live by?
Manning: [laughs] All I can think of are the cat posters that read, “Don’t give up.”
Manning: [laughs] …and I’m not a crazy cat lady!