A conversation with Irene Wilson, English alumna

Irene Wilson Photo

Irene graduated in 2020 as an English and Secondary Education double major with a minor in Psychology. During her time at Catholic, she served as a Resident Minister in Gibbons, a member of the RENEW Core Team, and a PEERS member, as well as playing Nun Betta Ultimate Frisbee all four years. Her favorite reading and study spot on campus was the third floor stacks in the library, on the right, in the window seat overlooking the courtyard.

What is your current job/title?

Irene Wilson
I am a High School English teacher at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, IN. I teach Honors American Literature for 10th grade and a course I created focused on human motivation throughout literature for Academic 11th graders. My typical work day is filled with lesson planning, grading, talking to students who appear in my room, and running the Irish for Dignity Club (respecting the dignity of every life), Empowering Healthy Minds club (mental health/healthy relationships advocacy), and Ultimate Frisbee Club.

Why did you choose to study English at Catholic U.?

I knew pretty much immediately that I was going to study English and Education in college. From a young age, it was clear I was called to be a teacher and as I fell more and more in love with Literature (shout out to my girl Jane Austen for sparking this JOY), I began to feel confident in this decision. I still remember one of my first days at Catholic U when Dr. Murton started reciting Caedmon’s Hymn in Old English… and I knew this was the place where I would find my people and my passion.

What was your path from graduation to your current job like? What advice can you give senior majors and recent grads about life after graduation and the job market?

Can I say it was a miracle? Because honestly… it was. I graduated in the midst of COVID and knew that I wanted to move to a new city and try something new, but had no ability to visit or discover new places/work environments due to the shutdowns. I had planned on doing a year of service in New York for most of my senior year, but after receiving my acceptance letter realized I felt no excitement at the prospect. Flash forward a few weeks and a few applications later - and I found Cathedral High School. I immediately fell in love with the mission of the high school, and just ten days after applying I was hired. I believe wholeheartedly that the reason I was hired so quickly was because of my ability to articulate my passion for and alignment with their core values. With all of this, I can’t say that I have “played the field” much in job searching - but I have found that in being authentic, passionate, and patient (wait for that job that excites you!) I have been led to do things I never dreamed of.

How has your English background served you professionally?

Irene Wilson overlooking cliff

Well, I currently teach a research paper focused on “The Connection between Poetry and Rock in American Literature”... so you tell me, Dr. Suarez! :) In all reality - I could not be the teacher I am without specifically Catholic U’s development of me as a reader, writer, and person. This job is, in some ways, a natural way to use the practical study I learned at Catholic. How to analyze a quote, break down a poem, find deeper meaning, see the connection/development between literary time periods, etc. But even more than that, I have found my analytical skills of asking questions, articulating my thoughts well, and presenting a clear and distinct directive to be some of the most beneficial skills I can offer my students. Whether that be in having conversations with them about something they need, writing an assignment for them to perfect, or grading an essay - my English background has helped me to be concise, reflective, and direct in each aspect of this approach.

What do you like the most about your job?

I love that I am able to daily make connections with teenagers and see them grow throughout the year. Last year, I created a new class for the 11th grade students that focuses on fear versus love as a motivator and how that impacts and tells the “human story.” Having the freedom to develop this course has been an immense gift, but seeing my students interact with the material and truly allow it to change them was magical. At the end of last year, reading their essays on “how love impacts the world” was possibly one of the most life changing moments of my life. Discussing various texts with my students allows me to see a vulnerability and an authenticity in them that truly opens the door for connection. This is something that I saw as a student at Catholic as well - but it is such a gift to be able to facilitate that environment for my students and to be at a school that gives me the freedom to do so.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

My morning revolves around answering emails, finishing up lesson plans (yes… this is frequently last minute), and answering student questions who show up at my morning office hours. Then from 8:30-3:00 I am either teaching, meeting with students and other teachers, grading, or wandering around to try and take a break between classes. I also work in the library at school a few days a week - so I am typically around the building until around 5 finishing things up.

What did you learn as an English major at Catholic U. that has continued to serve you well?

This may sound odd, but I think the greatest thing I learned was not to let my fear of not succeeding prevent me from moving forward. My love of learning and desire to improve have always been deeply rooted in me, but the English department at Catholic U helped me to trust my instincts, to dive deeper, and to question when something felt wrong rather than give up. I think this has been the greatest learning experience that has benefited my teaching and life all together.

Do you have any advice for current English majors?

Irene Wilson with puppy
Read. For. Fun. I know - this probably either sounds like “well duh?” or it sounds close to impossible - but I promise you… do it. Eat up the time that you have now to read absurdly interesting and wild things and have a community of people to actually talk about them with. It is hard to find that same niche out in the day to day world (even though we try) so make sure to take advantage of it while you are still around Catholic. It is also really easy when studying Literature to only read for courses and not make time for “pleasure reading.” Pushing that to the side during my college years is one of my biggest regrets - and re-prioritizing it has been an incredible part of my post-grad life.

Photo credits: Irene Wilson