Continuing with honoring educators this month, iList welcomes Paul Walker. Paul is an associate professor of English at Murray State University. He is trying to add on a new title this fall…congressman. He is a proud father of three who can’t pick just one favorite book but can pick his favorite pizza. iMeet a teacher who tries to make a difference in each of his students’ lives.
Welcome to iMeet Paul. Tell us about yourself...
I've been in Murray since 2007, when I was hired by Murray State University. Before then, I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona for several years, and prior to that, I lived in New York City.
I was born in a small town in southern Utah called Monticello, which is near Canyonlands National Park and has all kinds of outdoor places to hike, and explore. My childhood was mostly spent outside, either working or playing in my yard, or wandering around the mountains and canyons not too far from home.
Tell us about your family...
I have three daughters from my prior marriage (ages 14, 11, and 9) and they live with me in the summer. My girlfriend has one young son.
We have one cat, who likes to hang out in the house, but also likes to wander the neighborhood.
Tell us about your position at MSU...
I'm an associate professor of English, and I teach courses at all levels. Mostly I teach courses that focus on rhetoric, argumentation, and writing, though I also teach general humanities and environmental literature as well.
We know that you are an author and award-winning professor. Tell us about your publications and awards...
As a professor I've published a book and nearly 20 peer-reviewed articles. In 2013 I was named Outstanding Researcher in the College of Fine Arts and Humanities, and I was also awarded the Presidential Fellowship Research Award to assist with my work on my book.
I’m pleased to say my work is read and cited by scholars around the world, and it is not uncommon for someone to approach me at an academic conference to let me know that they have been using something I wrote in one of their classes. I'm always humbled by this, because I enjoy writing and the research it involves, and it is gratifying for my enjoyment to become a learning experience for someone else.
I suppose the same goes for teaching - I love being in the classroom with my students, and the fact that they learn from my enthusiasm about ideas we discuss means that my work is never a burden or obligation.
Tell us about your position as co-director of the Purchase Area Writing Project...
Since 2009, I've worked with K-12 teachers each summer with the Purchase Area Writing Project, which is part of a national program that focuses on integrating writing into all areas of school curriculum. The reason for this focus is that research has found that writing helps us learn concepts rather than only being a way to demonstrate our knowledge and skill with language.
The Writing Project has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my teaching career, and it's unfortunate that the grants which have supported it since 1986 have been cut, both by the federal legislature and the Kentucky state legislature.
You have decided to run for Congress. Tell us about your decision to do so...
Running for public office has not been something I always planned on doing, but the events of the past few years, large and small - like the loss of the Writing Project funding - reached a tipping point last year following the 2016 election. I spent several months thinking about it and ultimately decided to put my name in.
I'm not a politician, which is something that I hope will be to my advantage with voters. As a voter I look for qualified people, and I hope that voters this year view me as qualified to do the hard work that is necessary in Washington, rather than try to identify me with other elected officials and the way they have done things in the past.
Ultimately, I am still a teacher and am at my best when having a discussion, not giving speeches, though I'm sure I will keep getting better at those. But no matter what happens --even if I win and serve a few terms - I will return to teaching at the university.
What's the most important reason that you're running for office?
I believe we should take opportunities to serve. I have committed myself to public service as a public university professor, and in order to restore or establish some essential values in this country - education, healthcare, and respect for each other.
We need someone who has the knowledge, experience, and qualifications to make intelligent and beneficial solutions that will have immediate effects on the quality of our lives. I think that I am that person; I'm not the only qualified person around, but the only person in this race to be able to do that.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I read, jog, play darts, and build things. Maybe less building new things and more constantly tinkering with, or fixing, things around my home. Right now I'm working on an extension of my backyard deck and some landscaping work to make that space more usable, and comfortable. Last year I gutted my kitchen and designed and installed a brand-new one. I honestly love working with my hands as much as I love the mental work of teaching and writing.
May is Teacher Appreciation Month! Tell us about a teacher that made a difference in your life...
I had a professor in college who saw potential in me that was entirely different than what I saw in myself. Upon reflection, I suppose she saw mea side of me that resembles my current self more than I could recognize 20 years ago. She was patient with the ideas and opinions I had because she seemed to know that I would leave those behind once I saw how reductive they were in a complicated world.
I hope that my students feel the same way with the advice I give them, and with the patience I show for their ideas - perhaps some of them will remember my help when they realize that the ideas we have when we are young change a lot over time.
This will be a tough one...favorite book of all-time and why?
That's an impossible question for me! Different books have influenced me or affected me in powerful ways in different times of my life. I will mention some of those authors, though: Zadie Smith, Nell Zink, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekov, and countless others. I read so much that I'm inevitably leaving something out.
One of the most interesting reading experiences I've had was reading Marcel Proust - the nature of his writing is not like other novels where the plot keeps you intrigued. There is no plot, only incredibly beautiful descriptions of life and objects and people. It took me over a year to read it (I read other novels at the same time) because often I opened it up, read a paragraph, and it was so moving or profound or vivid that I had to stop reading. That was enough for the day.
On the other hand, I'll sometimes pick up a regular mystery novel and enjoy the fun that it offers for a few hours.
What is your idea of the perfect pizza?
I favor the New York style thin/crispy crust, and fresh mozzarella cheese with a few flavorful vegetables. And basil, of course.