Teacher Feature: Emmy Talian

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By Chanelle Ongagna, Staff Reporter For English teacher Emmy Talian, literature has always achieved three things: teaching empathy, bridging connections with others and developing a better understanding of her surroundings. From childhood, Talian loved books and knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life reading and analyzing the intricacies of language. Because of...

By Chanelle Ongagna, Staff Reporter

For English teacher Emmy Talian, literature has always achieved three things: teaching empathy, bridging connections with others and developing a better understanding of her surroundings. From childhood, Talian loved books and knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life reading and analyzing the intricacies of language. Because of her passion for reading, she chose a career that combined her love of literature with her extrovert qualities.

“I was a big bookworm,” said Talian, who teaches Honors American Voices and Honors Language and Composition. “I would stay up way past my bedtime with a flashlight under the sheets so I could keep reading. My fifth grade teacher had to rubber-band a book shut so I wouldn’t read ahead and spoil the book for everyone in my class.”

Her father’s pharmaceutical job took her family to Switzerland for two years, where she befriended people from various different countries at her international school. Talian credits the experience with deepening her understanding of the world and interacting with others.

“That very international experience gelled well with my understanding of books as a way to kind of connect with other world experiences,” Talian said. “I think my relationship to books and seeing literature is really a way of coming to understand the world and understand other people.”

Despite majoring in English at college, Talian struggled to choose a career. Many people suggested teaching, but she was not convinced until she took an education course and instantly loved it. Her sophomore year, she double majored in education as well as English.

“I’d had a vague idea of being a book editor,” Talian said. “Being paid to read books: that sounds like my ideal job, and you know what, I still get paid to read books, I just talk about them with students instead of with other adults.”

For Talian, the best part of teaching is the ability to form relationships after analyzing a book. Each year, she looks forward to teaching “The Great Gatsby,” not only because each read reveals something new, but also because students seem to identify with and relate to Fitzgerald’s commentary on American culture. Similarly, “Native Son” is Talian’s favorite book to teach because it sparks challenging yet productive conversations about controversial and relevant material.

“I love when I can see students making connections,responding to each other, really listening, and pushing themselves to make an attack,” Talian said.

A fan of both the classics and contemporary literature, Talian often reads outside of class. Her favorite American author is Toni Morrison, whose commentary on literature at large exposed her to a different way of approaching the classics she reads and teaches.

“Her own fiction is just so incredibly beautiful and heartbreaking and poetic and thought-provoking,” Talian said. “As a student, I didn’t understand what was happening here. But as an adult, I read her book ‘Sula’ in a book club with friends this summer, and the discussions we had were so rich.”

Talian’s other passion outside of reading is dance. A dancer since age 3, she did ballet throughout most of college and eventually co-founded a dance group. After college, she pursued dancing by taking part in swing-dancing. However, quarantine made it difficult to maintain her dance schedule 

“I have had a couple of Zoom dance-jam sessions with two of my friends from college where we’ll be on video and mirror each other’s movements. We used those as a way to feel a sense of community,” Talian said.

Talian believes fostering a sense of community is one of her most important motivations for teaching. 

“I think the beautiful thing about teaching is, I get to form relationships with my students and with my colleagues around the thing that I love,” Talian said. “I get to help other people experience the joy of learning and growing as a person through learning.” 


Chanelle Ongagna can be reached at [email protected]

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