Loyola University Chicago

Arrupe College

Sean O'Brien


Title: Lecturer, Writing and Literature
Degrees: BA, English, Truman State University; MA, Teaching, National-Louis University; MA, English, Loyola University Chicago; PhD, English, Loyola University Chicago
Hometown: Rogers Park
Courses taught: ACWRI 105 Writing I, ACWRI 110 Writing II, ACENG 110 Interpreting Literature, additional courses in American, British, and world literature

What attracted you to Arrupe College?

I am particularly drawn to Arrupe's mission as a college of opportunity. The expense of college and the often significant shift in academic and social expectations coming from high school are real barriers to entry for many prospective students, especially those who are the first in their family to attend college. Arrupe is designed to offer targeted financial, social, and academic supports to help those students overcome those barriers and access the life-changing opportunities that a college education can provide. Our students are rarely here because it's just the default option after high school—they have consciously chosen to work for their education in spite of many challenges, and it's my privilege to help provide both the supports they need and the educational opportunities they've been seeking.

Talk a little about the classes you teach.

I teach Writing I and Writing II as well as introductory literature courses. One of the things I love about both writing and literature classes is that they're spaces for helping students develop and articulate their perspectives on the world. What do I think about things? Why do I think that way? Academic writing is about going beyond complacent opinions to well-supported perspectives and arguments. It's also about building the habit of being open to letting other perspectives productively challenge one's own thinking, a habit that society always needs to continue to foster. Literature classes also offer a way of exploring both the universality and particularity of human experiences through a particular form of expressive art. It's often easier to address tough issues first in hypothetical or fictional settings, but that kind of interpretation and reflection can then be of great use to us in our everyday lives, too.

How did you get involved in teaching English?

I've always loved literature and writing. I majored in English as an undergraduate, but at that time I wasn't interested in teaching, partly because it seemed like such a default option for English majors and I didn't want to go into a career for lack of a better idea. After college I spent three years studying in Germany and teaching ESL in Japan. While teaching in Japan as a temporary opportunity, I realized that I really liked it and thought it was important. So when I returned to the US, I pursued teaching as a career, moving from junior high (Japan) to high school and then finally to college, which I think is the best fit for me.

What’s your favorite part about teaching? And the biggest challenge?

The short answer is "the students" and "the students." Working with a room full of intelligent, talented, unique individuals with their own experiences, questions, and goals means that every class is different. Something that worked terrifically last year may flop this time around because that's not the best way for these students to grasp that same idea. Teaching never gets boring but that also means it's never easy. I love that challenge, though. I've done jobs that got easy, and they get boring. I'll take challenging over boring any day. I love teaching challenges most of all because the source of the challenge is in the individuality of each student and the dynamic when you get a group of interesting individuals together in the same classroom. I learn about what I'm teaching from each group of students and I also learn about them, which keeps the job interesting year in and year out.