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Faculty Highlight

Cyndi Headley

February 2017


Cyndi Headley is our Faculty Highlight for February 2017. She was interviewed by Evan Smith. 

Tell me a bit about your background!

I am the oldest of eight kids. Six of which are my brothers. I grew up in bay area. Everyone in my family is up there. I miss them and like to get back up there when I can.

I love sports (maybe because of growing up with so many brothers).

Do you have a favorite team?

I did…

She pauses to remember The Chargers

So now I am sticking with The Padres. I follow the Arizona Wildcats too. I earned my PhD there, at University of Arizona. I earned my B.A. at UC Santa Barbara and my M.A. here at CSUSM.

Let’s see...what else? Oh, I taught surfing in Costa Rica for two years. And I taught English in China for a summer. That was as a grad student here at CSUSM. I think my class was the last class that had that opportunity actually.

What do you do for fun?

I play golf! I started about a year and half ago. I play executive courses (par threes and fours). I like being outside, and it’s a game where I can play against myself.  It’s good exercise and great way to forget anything else for a while.

I also love cooking, trying to create yummy, delicious food that is also good for me. My signature dishes: lasagna, seared scallops, and mushroom pasta.

And what kind of literature teacher would I be if I didn’t mention that I love to read.

Any good books I should know about?

Lamb by Christopher Moore. Maybe a bit offensive to some. But both clever and funny.

Did you always want to teach?

I figured it out when I was 19. My dad is a math teacher, and he gave me the opportunity to help one summer. I figured out I liked it. I figured if I could pair it with something I love (writing), that’s a good deal.

I also taught high school in Oceanside for 8 years.

What do you like about teaching?

I like when a student tells me something that I have not thought of--when they give me the light bulb! Just the other day we were discussing Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and there is a rape scene in it that is quite difficult to read. One student commented that Morrison’s narrative of the rape made us, as readers, take the position of someone who watches but does nothing. Her response gave me chills. So very astute.

Could you share one of your favorite student memories?

Yeah! I assign a lot of group presentations. One asks students to use characters from the works in early British literature. They need to accurately portray what the character would do.

One performance was “The Real Houses of British Lit.” They had Eve from Paradise Lost, the Duchess (who marries in secret a man of her choice) from The Duchess of Malfi, Margery Kempe, and the Wife of Bath. Imagine Eve discussing marital problems with Adam as the Duchess tries to hide her pregnancy.

I could not stop laughing. They did it up! It was so great.

Another time, one student was playing Beowulf and to establish who he was, he barged into the room and slapped a cut out of Grendel’s arm on the wall.

How is your GEW classroom different from other GEW classrooms?

My question-based pedagogy. I make students ask questions in order to receive feedback. We constantly practice asking questions.

My hope is for them to take more ownership of their writing. And hopefully they are more likely to read feedback.

What advice do you have for GEW students?

Ask questions! About an assignment, how to do it. About their own writing. About the books they are reading. Ask questions!

Any professional projects under way?

I am working on question-based pedagogy. I am looking at the type of questions students ask. My partners and I have presented our findings at Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association’s (PAMLA) conference, and we are currently working on a paper.

I’d love to start working with early modern drama too

What do you love about being a CSUSM Cougar?

I love the fact that many of my colleagues went here. We can talk about that experience. And I love that our student population is so diverse. It keeps me grounded, and it keeps me extremely hopeful for the future.