Ask A Professor


Shelly Decker, Contributor

Shelley Decker is a Professor of English and Literature.   


Students often say, “I’m no good at writing” or “I can’t write.” How do you respond to them?

Many students come to English 101 with the idea that they are bad at writing. This self-doubt can come from any number of sources. Some students have cited past English teachers who, unfortunately, were unsupportive. Others are nervous about grammar and feel like they don’t have a good grasp of the rules.  

 But, I believe, if you can talk about an issue, then you can write about it. Think about the last disagreement you had with someone. Did you state your claim? Did you support your idea with examples? Did you tell them what you think should be done about the issue? Then, you basically spoke an argument essay! If you can talk about it, then you can probably write about it. 

That does not mean that writing will be easy. You have to consider grammar and word choice and organization, which you do not have to do when speaking. However, if you use the resources provided by the college, i.e. your professor’s office hours, the Learning Center tutors, and feedback from peers in class, then you can conquer writing. 

 Several years ago, I had a student named Sara, and at the beginning of the semester, she told me that she had failed English 101 twice before. She asked what she could do to increase her chances of passing. My advice was for her to sit in the front row, participate in all class discussions, start each assignment the day it was assigned, make appointments with the writing tutors, and meet with/email me for feedback on essay drafts. She put in the effort and did everything I recommended; it was hard for her to make the time and to speak up in class, but she did it. It all paid off when she passed English 101 with an A.  I was lucky enough to see her skills grow through English 102, and by the end of that class, which she passed with an A, she was confident in her abilities and needed very little assistance to write a great essay. She put in the effort, and it was that effort that helped her develop and grow as a writer. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, then you can write a good paper.  


A student recently asked me what advice I would give to my students for getting through college. 

ASK FOR HELP! Some subjects in school will be super easy, and some you will struggle to understand. Just because a subject is hard for you does not mean you can’t do it, or you are “bad” at it. Contact the tutoring center for the subjects you struggle with and do it early. Talk to your teachers. We want to help! If you don’t get the help you need, ask someone else. Your education is important, and asking for help is sometimes necessary to get what you need!  


Why do you like (and teach) British literature? 

There are several reasons I love British literature, but the biggest reason is that Dr. Meg Pearson was my first Brit lit professor in college, and she made the language and context and action of the literature accessible. I did not think I could read Shakespeare and his contemporaries; the language seemed too confusing, but she introduced me to how bawdy and raunchy Shakespeare could be and made me laugh a lot. Once I realized that I could read it and that the stories were often simple and enjoyable, I dove in and never looked back.  

For example, in LIT 203: English Literature I, we read Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, a play about an arrogant doctor who sells his soul to the devil for ultimate power. As we follow him on his journey, we realize that he’s using all this power, with which he could do literally anything, to basically perform magic tricks to make people think he’s cool or to make himself laugh. He conjures up some grapes that are out of season to impress a duke, then he asks to be invisible at the Pope’s dinner party where he scares the Pope by making the food float around seemingly by itself. It is so ridiculous!  

In LIT 204: English Literature II, we also find humor in literature that is surprisingly relatable, such as when Oscar Wilde’s characters talk about women’s friendships in The Importance of Being Earnest: “I’ll bet you anything you like that half an hour after they [the women] have met, they will be calling each other sister. Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first.” That last part always makes me laugh.  

Maybe I’m just an anglophile; I do love British television shows and am a sucker for British mysteries.