NBC Learn Higher Ed Subscriber Spotlight: How an English Instructor is Inspiring Students She’s Known for a Lifetime

Posted on 02/10/2017 10:17 AM

These days it seems as though everyone has a second career. For Beth Leishman, her career trajectory started in the rural towns of Mississippi, working as a nutrition and breast feeding coach for mothers and their newborn babies. The work was extremely taxing, but equally rewarding.  After decades of exhaustive travel, she decided to turn in her healthcare bag and put the two English degrees she obtained earlier in her career to good use by becoming an English instructor. What started out as a complete 180 degree career turn quickly became an extension of her previous work.

“I’ve actually gotten to teach literature and composition to some of the students that I worked with many years ago when they were infants,” says Leishman. “I held you in my arms. Helped to get you meals and helped to get your mom’s milk. Now I’m trying to import something else to you here. Things have come full circle in my life in a number of ways.”

These days Leishman can be found teaching a variety of courses including English Composition, American Literature, and World Literature to her students at Northwest Community College in Senatobia, Mississippi. While she loves exploring topics like the Age of Enlightenment and the Declaration of Independence with her students, sometimes they’re not as enthusiastic about her early morning lectures.  

 John Locke, Natural Rights 

John Locke, Natural Rights

“I was looking for something to honestly wake my class up at 9 am. The building, like many of the school buildings around here, are fluorescent lights with no windows,” says Leishman.

To combat the doldrums of her teaching environment, she explored a variety of different resources but she was pleasantly surprised when the librarians at Northwest introduced her to NBC Learn.

“I am a very curious person and if anything comes across my desk or in my hands or if I hear about something, I’m going to check it out. So I got really excited about the videos and just got hooked on them,” says Leishman. “The videos change the atmosphere up in the class. It’s much more dynamic.”

With more than 20,000 resources to choose from, Leishman has enjoyed sorting through the collection and finding the perfect video to show her students.

“There is such a wide selection of things available in NBC Learn that is pertinent to the course that I teach,” says Leishman. “It’s not a history course per say, but I do teach it from a historical perspective.”

No matter the topic that she is covering, she has been able to find an aligned resource. From quick explainers about Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to more in-depth stories exploring the controversies related to Pocahontas and John Smith.

 Benjamin Franklin & the Fight for Independence 

Benjamin Franklin & the Fight for Independence

“We talk about how the real story of Pocahontas and John Smith is not like it is in the Disney versions,” says Leishman. “Even though we are studying something that to them seems ancient, there are people in contemporary times that are interested in these things and it continues to be newsworthy. People are commenting on it in a public arena. They are often doing it on TV and it kind of gives credibility to what I’m talking about. They see that it’s not just Ms. Leishman that cares about these things. It is important to someone else in the real world.”

Leishman has also used NBC Learn resources extensively to help teach her students about the finer points around writing a profile. Over the years, she has relied on various NBC Learn videos but has developed an affinity for this profile about horror novelist Stephen King. She feels like the piece helps her easily address one of her students’ biggest misconceptions.

  Stephen King: Master of Horror  

Stephen King: Master of Horror

“You hear the voice of the narrator introduce the piece but it is not an intrusive narrator,” says Leishman. “I was trying to get them to get out of the way and take themselves out of the paper. To spotlight the person that they were profiling and use dialogue quotes from their subject that would reveal who the person was.”

The video about King, produced back in the early 1980s, follows the well-known author as he recites spooky stories to listeners gathered around a bonfire and shadows him through his daily writing routine. The profile features insights into the prolific writer’s approach to crafting his stories. “Edgar Allan Poe said ‘terror is the finest emotion’ and I would agree with that,” remarks King in the profile. “Below that a slightly grosser emotion is horror and below that is the gross-out. And I go for terror in what I do, but if I can’t get that I’ll go for horror, and I’m not proud, if I can’t get horror I’ll go for the gross-out.”

To deconstruct how to write a profile, particularly though the experiences and voice of the subject, Leishman shows the full Stephen King video to her class and then replays the piece bit by bit.

“I used that as an example. We would stop and go back,” says Leishman. “We were really dissecting it and I pointed out key points of the profile. Techniques they can use in their own profiles.”

Not only is the Stephen King profile a helpful illustration, but it also hooks her students into her lesson.

“They all know who Stephen King is. They were instantly interested,” said Leishman. “They could connect it with something beyond the classroom, which for community college freshmen and sophomores is something that is really hard to do. They don’t often see the connections between what they are doing in the classroom and what they are doing in the real world.”

Helping students bridge the gap between what they are learning in college and their daily experiences outside of school is one of the benefits to using NBC Learn resources. But the opportunities are endless.

“I always find ways to use them,” says Leishman. “Once you start using them, the way you can connect them is just unreal.”

From using them at the beginning of her class to grab her students’ attention, to playing them at the conclusion of her lesson and having her students write a reflection, Leishman has found a variety of ways to use NBC Learn clips in her instruction.

“I’ve used them to introduce a topic in a lecture class,” says Leishman. “Sometimes I’ll flip it around and I’ll discuss something first and then say, ‘There is a great NBC Learn video on this.’ My students hear me say that a lot.”

To help reinforce her lesson about writing a portrait, Leishman relies on the video The Ludlum Identity: A Portrait of Robert Ludlum.  The writer, who is most famous for introducing us to CIA spy Jason Bourne, is a world traveler who vividly describes the places his characters visit.

  The Ludlum Identity: A Portrait of Robert Ludlum 

The Ludlum Identity: A Portrait of Robert Ludlum

“He has these wonderful settings. He takes these photos of places that he has visited and keeps elaborate notebooks and files them away for future stories that he is going to write,” says Leishman. “When we talk about place and setting, I ask my students, ‘Don’t you remember when we watched this video and Robert Ludlum did a sketch and took photos and filed them away so later on when he needed a setting, he could look at it and describe it and insert it into his story?’”

For Leishman, the NBC Learn videos that she uses have become a critical part of her lessons.

“It is a touchstone,” says Leishman. “Not only did they hear it and [see] it but they followed the text and the words and the pictures. It is moving and stunning.”

Though she has her favorite videos, Leishman continues to look through NBC Learn’s resources, partly because the website is updated every day of the week with new stories from current events, the NBC News Archives, and original productions.

“Just when I think I’ve exhausted and looked at everything and every single one I could possible pull into the class, I find something else.”

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