This is English Professor Bridgett Blaque’s last year in the classroom before retiring after over thirty years as an educator, but she said she’s going out just the way she came in: with her focus entirely on her students. Yet, despite fostering a lifelong love of language and reading, Blaque didn’t have a straight path to the classroom. Instead, Blaque’s professional career began as an editor, where she facilitated better writing from her contributors.
Her professional path would change, however, while working as the Geologic Editor for the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, when she realized she wanted to move beyond her role as an editor.
“When I realized that I didn’t want to work with the same group of people in a closed office, I was able to use that as a perfect jumping back point into the classroom. And honestly, I love teaching. I love the fact that every semester, there is a new group of people, new challenges, and new opportunities to learn.”
Blaque, who is a first-generation college student, understands the particular challenges faced by students going to college for the first time, including “imposter syndrome.” Every student that walks into Blaque’s classroom—whether in-person or virtual—is invited into a multi-dimensional discussion where the most important rule is to cite valid evidence for your point of view.
Using her passion for political and social issues—especially civil rights—Blaque engages students by emphasizing multiple perspectives and critical thinking. “Some students are turned off by that... but most of them are blown away because it’s really the first time they’ve ever had any serious discussion with multiple points of view,” she said, explaining that students are required to engage with experts and research to back up their ideas.
“A lot of the feedback I get from students is that the class helped them to think about things in a different way than before,” she said.
Red Mountain Memories
Blaque joined the TMCC community as full-time faculty in 1984, when she shared an office on the fourth floor of the original Red Mountain building with Pat Durham-Taylor, who was a newly hired faculty in the Nursing Program. “It wasn’t much bigger than a closet,” Blaque remembered. “I could sit in my chair and stretch my arms out in any direction and touch all four walls.”
Blaque remembers that all the composition courses she and other English faculty taught used a traditional “literary” method, which utilized readings in short stories, poetry, and drama as the starting point for student writing assignments. She used this method of teaching for several years until Ana Douglass and Patricia Cullinan joined the English department, bringing with them a rhetoric-based approach to teaching composition.
After that, Blaque took graduate-level courses on rhetoric and linguistics and began bringing non-fiction essays into her composition classes. “It’s old school now—writing across the curriculum—which means students read essays written by attorneys, philosophers, anthropologists... all different disciplines. And that really prepares students for the whole span of college writing,” she said.
Although Blaque has taught the gamut of composition and literature classes at TMCC, she said her role isn’t necessarily to teach students how to write, but how to think critically about their ideas, and about the world. “I had this epiphany about 25 years ago that what I’m teaching isn’t really writing, what I’m teaching is how to think. If you can’t think clearly, you can’t write clearly,” she said.
In addition to the changes in how composition courses are taught, Blaque remembers the TMCC campus had a very different “feel” in the early 1980s. “You could smoke basically anywhere,” she said, remembering a discussion she had with a history professor in the office next door when she’d asked him to stop because she was pregnant. He kindly obliged, much to the joy of many other faculty who had offices around him.
Yet, TMCC was much smaller than it is today. Blaque began teaching when TMCC’s first President, Dr. James Eardley, would wander the campus on Fridays with a clipboard, checking off faculty who were present on campus on a day when they weren’t required to teach. “I remember he’d come around with his clipboard… and he would sit down and talk to us. It made a difference, I think, for faculty to have unfiltered access to college leadership,” she said. This spoke to the tight-knit nature of the TMCC community, a place where everyone knew each other on a first-name basis.
Besides teaching English classes, Blaque was involved in many aspects of the college. She served as a Faculty Senator, Faculty Senate Chair, English Program Coordinator, and Department Chair. In 2005, she was a part of the team that completed TMCC’s Accreditation Report and later served as the Assessment Coordinator, experiences she said she will never forget.
“I don’t think too many faculty get the opportunity to see how other departments work so differently from others,” she said. “I was really lucky to work as Assessment Coordinator before it was a real, full-time position. That gave me the opportunity to work one-on-one with everybody, from diesel technicians to nursing to sociology. That experience made me realize and appreciate how talented everybody—our faculty at TMCC—is,” she said.
What Hasn’t Changed: Student Success
In addition to taking part in TMCC’s institutional evolution, Blaque was responsible for bringing a class focused on Women and Literature as well as Women’s Studies classes to TMCC.
“When I first started in the English department, I was the first one to teach English 267, Women and Literature. The department chair gave me such a hard time about that class. ‘Who’s going to be interested in this? Who is going to want to take this class?’”
Despite these disagreements, Blaque put English 267, Women and Literature, on the class schedule that fall. She remembered going home and praying for students to take the class, to demonstrate that there was interest in learning about what women had to write. The class would become one of the most popular classes for students to take in order to fulfill their diversity and humanity requirements.
“It was a real fight,” she said. “It’s interesting to think that these little discrete moments in my career were a part of historical things that were happening [in the world at that particular moment, like] fighting to get women included in the curriculum. I am proud that I was a part of that.”
What Students Continue to Gain at TMCC
Over the years, Blaque has witnessed student success on both a small and large scale: a student returned after 35 years away to complete English 101 so he could earn a teaching credential; another student looking to start her career as a paralegal discovered a love of writing in Blaque’s class and is now a published author. Another went on to earn a Ph.D. The stories are many, said Blaque. “In the English Department, almost every student who comes to TMCC goes through our department.”
It’s a department she feels lucky to be a part of. “It’s one of the best on campus in terms of focusing on students, and you know, everyone genuinely cares and tries to do a good job. And, I think we’re grounded...and that makes us unique. We help students get what they came here for,” she said.
Yet, she encourages students—and the community—to think about all they can gain from an education at a TMCC. “I think people perceive us too narrowly sometimes,” she said. “They think that we are just for job training, and it’s true that that’s a major focus of our mission, but I think that obscures the larger value we have, which is expanding people’s perspectives.”
Blaque’s composition classroom, with its focus on social issues and critical thinking, has offered perspectives to students on what it means to not only write but also think clearly-- and to see the world with wiser eyes.
For more information about English courses offered at TMCC, contact the department at 775-673-7092.