After Sean O’Brien received his undergraduate degree in English, he studied German literature for a year in Germany and then traveled to Japan to teach English as a foreign language for a few years. When he returned to the states, he went on to pursue a master’s degree in teaching and then went on to teach high school English in Chicago. After realizing his passion for language, he attended Loyola to receive a master’s in English. Today, he is currently working on his English PhD at Loyola.
Why did you decide to come back to school and get a PhD in English?
At the high school level, I enjoyed teaching and I liked the people I was working with. I wanted to transition to where I was in a position where I could kind of mix the teaching with research as well, which is kind of the hallmark of the college level where you can devote a certain amount of your time to pursuing your own education and continuing to learn about your field and produce knowledge and then use that to help keep your teaching fresh. That was something that I was very interested in and Loyola offered me the opportunities, too.
What’s the most fulfilling thing about teaching?
What I like best about teaching is seeing the students really start to take the reins and start putting together new ways of looking at a subject or about the world in general on their own. So like finding what they’re interested in and then pursing it and creating their own insights with the materials that I have for the class and bring to the table.
Do you have any teaching philosophies that are unique to you?
I would hardly say this encapsulates all of my teaching philosophy, but I think it’s a very important one that I can’t expect my students to care about how much I know until they know how much I care. I didn’t make that up, it was one I heard. My job is to communicate with people who are in the room with me and use that communication to help them achieve an education, which is more than just the processing of knowledge or clearly definable skills.
Can you describe yourself in three words?
Inquisitive, tenacious, and communicative… I think an important part of my work is communicating; it’s inter-relational rather than just about me and what I am. It’s about all sorts of relationships.
Where do you see yourself in 10 or 15 years?
I would hope to be a professor of English at a college or university in which I’m engaged in teaching the student body while I continue my own research in order to keep bringing fresh things to the table every semester in my teaching.
Why do you feel teaching English is important?
I think it’s important because I feel that, in literature and in English, most people [use it] to address tough questions that they need to work through. Literature gives a different perspective… it allows people to have new insights into things that affect the way they live and engage with each other in the world and I think that’s very valuable.