Meet Ranjani Murali, Diverse Faculty Fellow
- October 21, 2019
- October 21, 2019
Ranjani Murali became a Diverse Faculty Fellow this fall, but she has been at Harper since 2015 as an adjunct faculty member teaching English. The first class she ever taught for Harper was an evening class at the Harper Professional Center. But this wasn’t her first experience teaching. Like many adjunct faculty, Ranjani was stitching together several jobs. While teaching at Harper, she also taught at DeVry University and in a middle school (fourth and fifth graders) as a long-term substitute. Teaching nine- and 10-year-old middle schoolers challenged her to think more creatively and gave her insight into the K-12 system.
“The K-12 common core is influencing how writing is constructed,” noted Ranjani. “The five-paragraph research paper format is a good tool, but it is making students fearful of the freedom to write creatively.” Often Ranjani, who has her MFA in creative writing with a concentration in poetry, will give her English 101 students an assignment to write about any topic that is important to them. “Many of them are uncomfortable with such an open-ended assignment, but I want to push them to become critical writers and critical learners.” Ranjani uses some of the creative teaching techniques she practiced with her middle school students. She will send her college students out of the classroom space to analyze a piece of art or use Kahoot, a game-based learning platform (shout out to Ana Contreras for this resource). “Why should adults be deprived of the fun of learning?” said Ranjani.
While her many jobs provided a range of teaching experience, it was not the same as being immersed at a single institution. As a Diverse Faculty Fellow at Harper, Ranjani is learning what it looks like to be a full-time faculty member. She is exposed to the administrative tasks that faculty perform as well as the different teaching styles within her department, the division and in other disciplines. She has the time to learn about committee work, interact with colleagues and engage more deeply with her students since she is not burdened with racing to another part-time job. “Because of the Fellows program, I have the privilege to spend time on campus. I can fully experience the daily life of a faculty member. I am impressed with how welcoming and generous my colleagues are with their time and effort – both with their students and with me. I am learning from the wisdom of everyone around me. There is a real sense of community that I did not experience living the adjunct life,” shared Ranjani.
Life situations can be overwhelming when working part-time. The uncertainty that comes with being an adjunct faculty member can be a barrier to fully engaging with the college. Often, adjuncts have to balance attending professional development opportunities, such as the Teaching and Learning Conference or the Diversity Symposium, with the cost of child care or other job commitments. “This fellowship is enabling me to participate at the college without the pressure of money, time or both. I love coming to campus and the feeling that I can give my 100% to my students in class and during office hours,” said Ranjani.
When Ranjani became a Diverse Faculty Fellow she continued her work as an award-winning poet and is finishing her second volume of poetry. Inspired by Raúl Zurita and Tina Darragh, her latest project Clearly You Are ESL¸ which will be published later this year by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, includes visual and mathematical poems. Here is one of the poems from this collection – it is about domesticity and women in India:
Want to learn more about Ranjani, her poetry or her approach to teaching? Read her additional thoughts about Harper and teaching at a community college, or stop by her office in Building L, Room L245.
- How did you become an adjunct faculty member at Harper?
It was all thanks to Parag Davé! I met Parag at my neighbor’s house. He is the biggest advocate of Harper. I had submitted an application for an adjunct position, and he said, “In two days, I am going to call you and see what we can do to get you an interview.” Sure enough, he followed up and I got an interview with Andrew Wilson. Parag is the reason I came to Harper; his enthusiasm is contagious.
- When did you know you wanted to teach?
When I was an undergraduate student in India, I formed an informal peer-study group. A lot of my friends and peers came from underrepresented communities and needed some peer support in the course. (We were all English majors.) As I began to plan mini-lectures on class topics, I realized that teaching (and by extension tutoring) was my passion. I officially taught my first course, an ENG 101 section at George Mason University in Virginia in 2007, and a few weeks into teaching, I was convinced that I wanted to stay on as an instructor in the field of higher education.
- In your own words, what attracted you to teaching at a community college?
The community college, for me, is a close-knit community; I find that students are very invested in their short term and long-term goals. Often, I meet many technically-skilled students; I also often teach evening sections where I meet non-traditional adult students. I am able to adopt a variety of teaching and classroom strategies since my classrooms intrinsically have a lot of different forms of diversity. I have gained a deep appreciation for students who are studying and working simultaneously; the work ethic that I have witnessed and benefited from, as an instructor with diligent and motivated students in my class, invigorates me. I come to every class very energized, thanks to my students.
- In your first few months, what has surprised you the most about Harper?
Even though these were not my first few months at Harper, I continued to remain amazed by the support and the warm welcome extended to me by my department, division, and the college. I was humbled by the willingness of my colleagues to invite me into their classrooms, or even strike up conversations on teaching tips and strategies in the hallway. I am also teaching a condensed eight-week section of ENG 101 (including a combined apprenticeship section) this semester and have been amazed by the focus and the diligence my students bring to the table.
- What is the most interesting part of your job?
I witness my students progress as writers through the semester, and eventually, through their Harper journey. It is exciting and humbling to watch students discover their own strengths as writers. I also enjoy teaching my students writing vocabulary and giving them, therefore, the tools to take charge of their own growth as critical thinkers and writers. Finally, I find it even more fulfilling when my students engage with my classroom readings, discussions and other material, while bringing both their academic selves as well as their authentic selves to the classroom. It is an honor (and a privilege) to watch this process unfold.
- What do you enjoy doing outside of Harper?
I enjoy writing, reading, and spending time with my two children and husband.
- What was your first job?
I was a news-trainee/copyeditor at CNBC-TV18 India, a television channel that catered to the stocks/trading/financial community all over India. I had to run from the production room to the floor regularly, tapes in hand, because we didn’t have digitization technology yet in 2006! I was working on the floor the day the Mumbai local train blasts happened in July 2006. It was nerve -wracking but also an invaluable learning experience as several of our senior journalists took turns reporting live and guided us on how to report with sensitivity and empathy.
Ranjani Murali’s first book of poems, Blind Screens, was selected by Eliot Weinberger and Adil Jussawalla as the winner of the inaugural
Almost Island manuscript prize and was published in 2017. The book won the Prabha
Khaitan Women’s Voice Award in January 2019, and was selected from a shortlist of
nonfiction, fiction and poetry books written by contemporary Indian female-identified
writers. Ranjani has also received fellowships for her poetry and nonfiction from
the Vermont Studio Center and
the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown.