English Studies

Insulated by an English Degree

My first day of graduate classes was accompanied by an unconventional litmus test of academic ability. A tiny cohort of four, my peers and I are all amid an accelerated degree program pursuing a Master’s in Education for English Language Arts. As I settled in for our weekly seminar on teaching ways of knowing in the humanities, we were introduced to an opening activity that registered with a tinge of intimidation—the drafting of what our professor called an “exemplar essay,” based on the 1884 short story The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant. Not only was this the sort of assignment we were accustomed to spending days, if not weeks meticulously studying and planning for beforehand, but our professor also made it clear there was little room for error here. An exemplar essay is the kind of writing material you showcase to your students, to be read and taken in with the weighty understanding that this is how you make an essay happen “the right way.”

After filling our conference room with the furious clicking of keyboards for about 20 minutes, I’ll never forget my professor’s immediate thoughts after we completed this seemingly daunting task: “In all my years of teaching future teachers, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a whole room go that hard with this assignment. But then I remembered—you’re all English people! No wonder you knew what you were doing.”

The rhythm of the first day of fall classes is burned into my brain, given the number of years I’ve identified as a student (a digit scarily close to the number of years I’ve been alive). When a comment like this one breaks the status quo of the typical first day, it’s hard not to contemplate what made my professor’s assertion of mine and my classmates’ writing so meaningful. I’ve decided that her observation is not just a kind affirmation to a bunch of anxious preservice teachers, but also a crucial reminder of the extraordinary staying power of an English degree. It’s been a mere few months since I left undergraduate, but I feel like I can look back on my post-undergrad summer and feel the reassuring insulation of my English major-turned-degree through similar moments like our successful free-write. From the non-profit meeting minutes that I dutifully log in expressive but concise detail, to the stylization and formatting I hardly think twice about when I generate a new document. My professor’s bit of praise is not the first time since graduating that I’m fueled by the rhetoric and composition skills I’ve mastered like clockwork, the way I find myself absentmindedly embracing the structure, the scrutiny, and the savviness of someone who knows how to communicate through writing.

I reflect on this simple first-day anecdote with solace, pride, and just the right amount of reverence for the fact that I feel truly well-equipped to read, write, teach, and above all else, communicate with this beautiful language. As I sit with the simple joy of feeling prepared and supported by my English background, I think a lot about my future classroom, the reason why I found myself with this first-day anecdote in the first place. It’s infinitely more exciting to think about meeting a student just as passionate about this pursuit of knowledge and communication skills as I was at the start of my educational journey. I hope they’re neurotic, passionate, and ridiculous enough to write a love letter to their English degree and its benefits someday, too.

Brett Iarrobino
Student Advisor, 2021-2023
Alpha Chi Xi Chapter
Clark University, Worcester, MA


Sigma Tau Delta

Sigma Tau Delta, International English Honor Society, was founded in 1924 at Dakota Wesleyan University. The Society strives to

  • Confer distinction for high achievement in English language and literature in undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies;
  • Provide, through its local chapters, cultural stimulation on college campuses and promote interest in literature and the English language in surrounding communities;
  • Foster all aspects of the discipline of English, including literature, language, and writing;
  • Promote exemplary character and good fellowship among its members;
  • Exhibit high standards of academic excellence; and
  • Serve society by fostering literacy.

With over 900 active chapters located in the United States and abroad, there are more than 1,000 Faculty Advisors, and approximately 9,000 members inducted annually.

Sigma Tau Delta also recognizes the accomplishments of professional writers who have contributed to the fields of language and literature.

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