Get to Know HFC: Dr. Ruth Haller and what it means to live a Good Life
English professor Dr. Ruth Haller has achieved her ultimate career goal: She recently earned her doctorate and is a tenured instructor at HFC.
“Teaching at HFC works has provided so many opportunities for personal and professional growth. I love this community. The people around me inspire me and push me in so many different ways,” said Haller, who has taught at HFC for eight years. She lives in Livonia with her husband and three children, ages 8, 5, and 2.
A native of Aurora, IL and the third of four children, Haller graduated from Lutheran High School Westland. She earned her bachelor's degree in English and theology from Concordia University Chicago, her master’s degree in English from Eastern Michigan University, and her Ph.D. in English from Wayne State University. Haller also completed some graduate work at Western Michigan University.
Dissertation: “Spiritual Maternity and Religious Identity in Early Modern England”
It took Haller nearly 10 years to complete her doctoral work at Wayne State. In late 2021, she defended her dissertation, “Spiritual Maternity and Religious Identity in Early Modern England.”
“During this decade, several momentous life changes occurred, including having my three children. The experience of becoming and being a mother certainly influenced the choice of a topic here,” explained Haller. “But the texts themselves were inspirational as well! As I read through many different types of genres in the early modern period (sermons, diaries, poetry, devotional writing, nuns' writing, catechisms, life writing), it became clear that mothering relationships, tropes, and accepted traits were integral in the formation of many of the new religious identities which arose out of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter Reformation in England during this time.”
She continued: “But there's actually a long lineage of this in Christian history that many people aren't aware of. As early as the 2nd century, for instance, church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus of Lyon were referring to religious instruction or scripture as ‘breastmilk’ and to God as the milk-giver. This tradition continued into the early modern period, where even ministers would refer to themselves as nurses for their congregations in their sermons and the activities of mothering were used to describe an ideal sort of spiritual growth. If these maternal applications of care and nurture were applied in the past to culturally important and influential people and even God in many cases, it causes one to wonder why caring and nurturing are given such little esteem or recognition in our own culture, which tends to praise and value people for their ambition, political power, wealth, and so on.”
Academic writing is a creative endeavor
According to Haller, she is most comfortable in academic writing as opposed to creative writing.
“However, writing my dissertation taught me that even careful, meticulous academic writing is a creative endeavor,” she explained. “I call forth ideas that I'm cultivating in my mind and attempt to communicate these as clearly and as effectively – and even as beautifully and elegantly – as I can through the written word. Academic writing is a craft in its own right. Ultimately, I want to represent my ideas with clarity, I want to do justice to myself, and I want to be understood. And this is often a focus in the composition courses I teach here at HFC.”
When she was a little girl, Haller always had her nose in a book. She would read book after book throughout her childhood and teens. Her ingrained inclination toward reading certainly played a part in her chosen career.
“I had a variety of professors at Concordia who really made an impact on me and helped me to envision myself doing what they did,” said Haller. “It's a reminder to me that what I do in the classroom – and on Zoom – is important and impactful. It can change a student's life!”
Haller’s teaching career began in 2009. Her first class was a composition class at WMU.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, but it was a great learning experience for me – and, hopefully, for those students too,” she said, laughing.
The Good Life
Haller taught at Wayne State before coming to HFC in 2014. At HFC, she has been the co-chair for the HFC Committee for the Assessment of Student Learning (CASL) for the past four years in addition to her teaching duties. This semester, she is teaching two sections of ENG 132: College Writing and Research. The theme ENG 132 explores is the “good life.”
“We spend the first half of the semester really digging into the question, ‘What does it mean to live a good life?’” explained Haller. “We examine it from many different angles. I've enlisted the help of six different friends and colleagues who recorded 5-minute videos of themselves answering that question. So, every week in the first part of the semester, students watch a video and then read and watch some supplementary materials. We meet on Thursdays to talk about what they read and watched. We talk about all sorts of thing throughout these weeks: love, relationships, community, education, religion, ethical action, money, experiences, health, striving, goals, power, prestige, rest, etc.”
Haller continued: “I'm very careful to hide my own hand and remain neutral on the issues students consider together in class, but I do ask a lot of questions. Lots of inquiry, deep thought, and good ideas come out of this unit of the class. In the second half of the semester, we focus more on researching the question, ‘What does it mean to live a good life?’ Students research by finding and reading college-appropriate sources and then ultimately write a paper which gives their informed perspective on living the good life. It's a great class if I do say so myself!”
Community of colleagues, and students writing meaningful things
Haller loves being able to teach at HFC.
“I am so blessed to have this job. This community of colleagues is incredible, and I consider it such a privilege to teach and work with the people that I do. It's also so fun and gratifying to watch students think about things they hadn't before, change their own minds on issues, grapple with ideas, etc.,” she said. “I consider this to be one of the most important aspects of higher education: To give students the opportunity to exercise and strengthen their abilities to truly think critically, to question, to challenge themselves to listen to others they disagree with and respond thoughtfully – it's really such an honor and so exciting.”
There are pros and cons to Haller’s job. End-of-semester grading and the deluge of emails an be challenging. However, the pros far outweigh the cons.
“On the other hand, it's wonderful to get to see what my students are able to accomplish and what they've learned at the end of the semester. I give students room to think and grow and to challenge themselves,” said Haller. “We read interesting things. They write meaningful things. We talk a lot. I give as much feedback as I can on their work. We develop a really good rapport together as a class. These things happen in so many of my colleagues' classes, too. And that's why I think we have such a special community of teachers here at HFC. Being a part of HFC definitely contributes to my ‘good life.’”
Three of the videos used to inspire students to reflection on a Good Life are below.
English Instructor Chelsea Lonsdale reflects on what a Good Life is.
Student Activities Director Cassandra Fluker reflects on what a Good Life is.
English Instructor Pedro San Antonio reflects on what a Good Life is.