Teaching and research ought to be mutually energizing and informing activities.

After all, research is insignificant if kept to the self. In academia the drive to share research pushes scholars to attend conferences, publish in journals and book projects, and to produce scholarly monographs. However, the most basic and significant way in which we share our research is through teaching. My research typically finds its first audience in my students; and engaging, thought-provoking classroom conversations open up new sets of questions driving me to learn more. I learned to be a teacher in the secondary classroom of predominantly male schools in Hungary and Australia. After finding ways to keep fifteen-year-olds interested in poetry, teaching at the university level is, truly, a joy. That said, my time as a secondary teacher trained me to be student-centered, not just in terms of pedagogy but by repeatedly bringing me back to the real needs and interests of my students. High schoolers will never let a teacher assume that a John Donne poem or Brontë novel has intrinsic value; you have to demonstrate this by opening up the text and connecting it to the lived experiences of students. I bring this mindset to every university class I teach.

See my CV for Teaching Experience

As a teacher:

  • I encourage students to enter into the ongoing conversations between individuals, groups and literary works through traditional teaching such as class lectures and conversations, small group work, and frequent written reflections.
  • I strive to integrate new technologies and pedagogies into my teaching, as exemplified in the interactive iBook course reader I developed for an elective course on the Victorian novel.
  • I exhort students to develop traditional written responses to literature within imaginative frameworks suited to their professional interests.

Discussing the public, domestic and secret lives of Victorian characters.

Classroom Snapshots

Wheaton College Students reflect on Dr. Hughes’ classes

Teaching on Lady Audley’s Secret in my 2014 class Deviant Selfhood: Love, Faith and Criminal Activity in the Victorian Novel of (Self)-Development.

“Prior to having a class with (Professor Hughes), I never thought Victorian novels would become some of my favorite literature to read. Her ability to give in-depth answers to any question brought up in class, whilst keeping every single person in the class engaged and included in the discussion, is a skill unparalleled by any other professor I have had.”

John Kalmanek
University of Notre Dame
First Year Student

“Professor Hughes does an outstanding job of teaching material, making complex concepts simple and fun to learn.”

Leo Linbeck
University of Notre Dame

“Jessica teaches in a way that is both engaging as well as enlightening. Her ability to integrate key historical and social contexts into the novel reading process makes her style conducive to both advanced English majors as well as those who are simply interested in the topic of Victorian literature.”

Gwyneth Sullivan
University of Notre Dame class of 2014

“Jessica brings a passion to the classroom that I’ve rarely seen before in professors; she really cares about her subject matter and her students. I’m not sure any of my peers or I came into the classroom with a strong interest in Victorian literature, but thanks to Jessica’s enthusiasm and teaching style, we’ve learned to analyze the novels and love what they tell us.”

Jenna Nizamoff
University of Notre Dame class of 2014
Political Science & Economics

“Jessica engages her students and gets them to look at issues in a variety of ways, all while encouraging them to expand their thinking.”

Bethany Young
University of Notre Dame class of 2014

“Jessica’s teaching is always engaging, insightful, unique, and thought-provoking. She makes every class an amazing learning experience!”

Flor Flores
University of Notre Dame

“Jessica’s conversational, question-driven style of leading a classroom lends itself to student led discovery, which makes her students feel as if they are not only in control of their own education, but respected for their observations. This, along with her obvious personal interest in the material she teaches, engages and excites her students.”

Thom Behrens
University of Notre Dame

“Jessica’s teaching gave me new tools to help me understand the novels we studied. From our class discussions, I was able to assess the novels using a new historical understanding of the time period as a whole, as well as a new awareness of the writing choices that the author made.”

Sami Burr
University of Notre Dame
First Year Student

“Jessica is unique in that she has managed to find that fine balance between providing too much direction and no direction at all within the classroom setting. Her teaching style is one that allows you to think freely and question openly while not completely diverging from the material at hand. In this way you leave the classroom with incredible new insight, as well as having had an opportunity to explore and develop your own thoughts.”

Kiran Ikram
University of Notre Dame class of 2014

Student Testimonials from Deviant Selfhood: Love, Faith and Criminal Activity in the Victorian Novel of (Self)-Development

Winter 2014, University of Notre Dame

First-Year Composition | Writing Across the Disciplines

One approach I particularly like when teaching writing, particularly across the disciplines, is to help students understand writing as a central process by which they participate in the learning community that is the academy. To facilitate their participation in this community through writing, I make the processes of academia explicit within the writing class, decoding lecturing as a pedagogy, research papers, in class essays, speeches and group projects. In this course, I require students to provide texts for class analysis, guide students as we collectively generate rubrics based on their observations of what works in a given genre, and even work with students to organize class sessions.

Such activities help students become aware of the strategies professors use to facilitate learning and aware of their own learning styles. Understanding themselves in the context of a learning environment enables students to develop strategies to maximize their learning and the learning of others, which is then becomes a foundation al way of understanding good writing. Not only does this course prepare students to write across the disciplines, the skills involved in sourcing relevant material, generating evaluative standards, and working collectively to teach material such that a group of people come to a new understanding of themselves and the issue at hand has obvious “real world” applications. As a result students experience and thus come to understand the centrality of liberal arts procedures for their future work in the world.

The Art of Marriage, Madness, and Murder: Aesthetic Trends since 1800

Non-major survey course are fun opportunities to create classes that provide students with an broad view of literature. When developing such courses, I focus on teaching students to read carefully which, in turn, generates engaged reflections on the text. Tying such courses into aesthetic trends gives students a way to understand why certain works are valued as literature. More importantly, as students learn that they are surrounded by literature everyday—from novels and poetry to TV, films and music—they are able to use the evaluative tools developed in such a survey course to intelligently engage the current literature that is shaping both them and their wider culture. I try to communicate these values to students by positioning this course within our binge-watching culture:

Ever wondered why “melodrama” and “genre fiction” are viewed as cheap entertainment and “realism” is treated as art? Or why English classes seem to prefer Eliot’s novels over network television? What makes a story “real” or “true” or “art” anyway? And what are the implications of words like “real” or “true” literature for cultural thought and practice? By looking at the historical roots of aesthetic movements like Romanticism and Realism, reading fiction (and a few poems), and watching TV shows, this class will equip you to answer these questions…and might even justify some binge-worthy TV shows as great realist achievements.

First-Year Composition | Thematic Course

In teaching composition, my primary objective is to help students think clearly by teaching them to write well. Since students often think and write better when they have some information, I have used themes to give courses a sense of coherence while developing students’ knowledge base. One such theme is Food. Food provides a variety of inter-related topics to research, evaluate and debate that actually affect students day-to-day lives. What is more, food and food production make a fabulous metaphor for the writing process itself. As I explain in the description for this course:

Every meal we eat is the result of a long and complex process in which small little things―seeds, eggs, yeasts―grow slowly and change frequently until they mature and are eaten. A small seed planted in a greenhouse in late October forms a stalk, produces leaves and flowers, the delicate yellow flowers are pollinated, and give way to a small green tomato bud that then ripens (a bit) until it is picked by a farmworker in San Quitin, BC, Mexico, loaded on a truck, driven to a distribution plant in San Diego, CA, loaded on another truck or train, driven to a regional distribution plant, transported to the local grocery store and then placed on display so that you can slice that tomato onto a turkey sandwich the day after Christmas. 

Like growing and preparing food, writing is a long process. Like a tomato, a single essay or journal article takes months of work and preparation. A novel or monograph, like an Easter Feast, takes years and the lives of many living things before it arrives at the center of the table or a library bookshelf.

Deviant Selfhood: Love, Faith and Criminal Activity in the Victorian Novel of (Self)-Development

My primary goal when teaching novels is to encourage students to grow into careful and insightful readers who understand the role fiction plays in shaping social, cultural, economic and religious attitudes. This course on the Victorian novel achieves this by tying together a number of genres through the idea of individual development. From the course description:

While anti-social, violent and criminal acts help to make novels popular, novels about the formation of the individual do much more than tell a sensational life story. By depicting the maturing individual such narratives establish what is “normal” for middle-class identity, incorporate the outsider into society, and raise questions about the stability of the self. These novels also challenge the economic, social, and religious structures of Victorian society that narratives of social incorporation apparently endorse. In looking at novels by Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, this course will examine topics ranging from love and Victorian religion to what constitutes criminal behavior and insanity. More importantly, we will consider the relationships between the developing individual, self-determination and social norms, asking ultimately what these novels say about being human.

The Catholic Novel

As a co-instructor for a directed reading in Notre Dame’s theology department, I help students understand the difficulties and opportunities the novel genre offers for re-examining elements of the Christian narrative. Discussions are driven not only by questions of what makes a novel “Catholic” (the author? the content? the characters’ religious identities?) but what aspects of the Christian tradition can be uniquely illuminated by the novel form.

Read a Student Reflection on this Course

Course readings include literary theory ranging from Barthes and Bakhtin to recent work on sympathetic form by Rae Greiner, along with novels by Evelyn Waugh, Georges Bernanos, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Conor, and Tim Winton.