Doctoral grad balances motherhood, teaching, research by prioritizing life, not work

By

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Michelle Glerum loves teaching: teaching students and teaching future teachers.

Her goal is to create lessons that encourage students to think critically about world issues and help them compose sound and logical arguments.

Before entering the PhD program in English (English education) at Arizona State University, the former resident of Princeton Junction, New Jersey, taught at Saguaro High School and Scottsdale Community College.

During her doctoral studies, Glerum served as a teaching associate, where over the years she has taught introductory courses like ENG 101/102 First-Year Composition, as well as upper-division requirements for secondary English education majors: ENG 480 Methods of Teaching English Composition, ENG 482 Methods of Teaching Language, and ENG 471 Literature for Young Adults. She encourages students to see themselves as writers with ideas worth sharing. Glerum is also a fellow of the National Writing Project and taught for the Central Arizona Writing Project.

In 2021, Glerum received the Department of English Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant Award for her excellence in teaching and contributions to students in the writing programs and English education.

“Along with her skill and aptitude as a scholar, she is truly an exceptional teacher," said Glerum’s mentor, Professor of English Jessica Early. “She is one of the strongest instructors we’ve had in our doctoral program.”

Glerum’s research focuses on language and literacy practices in secondary and post-secondary education as well as beginning teacher transitions. She successfully defended her dissertation, “Transitions, Tensions, and Retention Factors: The Value of Community and Support for Early Career English Educators,” on April 7 and will receive her doctorate on May 9.

We recently had a chance to talk to Glerum to find out more about her PhD journey and her plans after graduation.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: As an undergraduate, I took Jessica Early’s Methods of Teaching Composition course and I absolutely loved it. I was majoring in English literature and minoring in sociology, and her course inspired me and made me realize how much I enjoyed teaching English language arts. I decided to continue my education by getting my master's in curriculum and instruction (in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU) so that I could teach secondary English. I spent seven wonderful years teaching high school English at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, before I came back to pursue my PhD in English education. It wasn’t until I was teaching Methods of Teaching Composition myself, during my second year in the program, that I realized just how much I enjoyed teaching future English teachers and engaging in research about literacy and teacher preparation. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: It was harder than I anticipated to navigate motherhood and academia and to figure out how to balance both roles semi-successfully. In the beginning, I tried to do everything at once – take care of a newborn, teach, find time to write – and I often felt like I was failing. As a result, I learned to be more intentional with my time and to set clear boundaries for myself, which has been helpful for me as both a mother and a teacher/researcher. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I initially came to ASU in large part because of the weather. Growing up in New Jersey, I’d had enough of the cold, drawn-out winters, so I was looking for a change of scenery and a great English program. ASU was the perfect fit. I came back for my PhD because I had such wonderful experiences working with the English department faculty in my previous programs. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I was able to work with so many incredible professors at ASU and each of them taught me valuable, important lessons. In particular, I am so grateful to Jessica Early for her endless support and wisdom. It is impossible to put into words how much she has taught me over the past decade. Everything I have learned from her has felt important, but one of the most important lessons has been how to teach and mentor in a way that makes students feel seen, heard and valued. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Prioritize your life and not just your work. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying? 

A: In all honesty, I do not have the temperament or attention span for power studying; I like to take my time and incorporate lots of breaks. I am particularly fond of working in the little garden hidden away behind the Piper Writers House. The tranquil atmosphere is perfect for writing and thinking.

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: I am planning to enjoy time and travels with my family. Additionally, I will continue my research on early career communities of practice as a method for cultivating sustainable teaching practices and offering critical support for first-year English language arts teachers. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? 

A: I recently read “What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce Perry and I learned so much about how critical early childhood experiences are in terms of shaping our brains and behaviors. I think everyone should read this book. I can’t recommend it enough. If I had $40 million, I would use it to fund early childhood initiatives as well as research and programming to support conscious, trauma-informed, and healing-centered parenting and teaching. I think this would have an incredible effect on our society by disrupting damaging dynamics and generational cycles and, instead, offering a better way to move forward.

Written by Sheila Luna

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