Words in Action: English Instructor, Poet, and Runner

Have you ever walked away from a conversation feeling so amped up you’re convinced you could scale a skyscraper? Daniela Sow has so much passion and drive that I remember feeling like she’d passed on her enthusiasm to me every time we talked. In college she helped introduce me to the power of slam poetry (or spoken word) and has since become a multi-faceted, accomplished woman, and a college instructor. Whoever said teachers are boring and/or scary is dead wrong!

Daniela’s Roles/Work/Hobbies:

  • English Instructor at San Diego Mesa College and Grossmont College
  • Poet (work published in A Cappella Zoo, Encompassing Seas, and San Diego Poetry Annual)
  • VP of Publicity for San Diego, California’s Teachers of English (SD CATE)
  • Presenter at various professional development conferences (CATE Convention, NCTE Conference, CRLA Conference, On Course I Workshop, PAMLA Conference, etc.)
  • Wife (been together for a total of 9 years, married for almost 2 of those years)
  • Member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee at Grossmont College
  • Traveler (Spain, France, Romania, Philippines, and many states in the U.S.A)
  • Graduate with a B.A. in Literature, M.F.A. in Creative Writing (Poetry), and most recently Postsecondary Reading and Learning Certificate
  • Runner (completed two San Diego Rock-n-Roll Half Marathons)
SD half marathon
Daniela competing in the San Diego Half Marathon

 

 What are you currently doing or working towards that you would like to tell us about?

I currently teach community college English, and I love it because every day I feel that I am making a difference. Students have such fresh ideas to contribute, so every class session is different. One thing that I’m working on: I’ve always got my eye out for new texts and assignment types for students. It’s actually easy for teachers to become stagnant and use the same texts over and over, so I strive to keep things fresh and relevant.

This semester I’m excited about facilitating events that celebrate the diversity of our campus and also bring unity. I’m also thrilled to be working with a colleague on co-authoring an article in which we argue why humanities courses matter; it’s going to take patience and months of research and drafting to get this article polished the way we envision. Lastly, I’ve recently completed a Reading Certificate program online, and this academic training has helped me to be a more effective reading teacher. All of the work I do is aimed at one main goal: the students’ success.

Who or what has inspired you to do this?

The day I knew that I wanted to become a teacher was when I attended a community college teaching panel as a graduate student. It was extremely informative! The woman who spoke was so passionate about her SDICCCA (San Diego/Imperial County Community College Association) internship experience and how it led to her teaching at local community colleges. Her passion in teaching ignited something in me. I called up my husband (boyfriend at the time) and excitedly said, “I know what I want to do!” The vision for my future suddenly became so clear to me.

When I was admitted into the SDICCCA internship program, I met some very inspiring people. Dr. Kendra Jeffcoat, the internship coordinator, taught me how to social network, be visible, and target students’ needs efficiently. She warned us at the start of the program, “Not all of you will get offered courses to teach after this is over. In reality, maybe half of you will.” I decided right then: I need to put in 110 percent of my efforts. I will be one of the interns who succeeds. At the end of the year, 24 interns were left, and I was one of the top 8 who was already assigned courses to teach that coming fall semester. I also have my mentor, Lisa Ledri-Aguilar to thank. She was amazing and made me want to be as well-rounded as she is.

My mother—may God rest her soul—was always a major role model. She was a focused, high-achieving woman who taught me how to work well with others and get what I want out of life by being assertive. She inspired me to excel, to not settle for average. The best way for me to honor my parents is to live the life I have always imagined and be happy doing it.

What drives you to go beyond the norm and put so much time and effort into doing so many different things?

It’s too easy to be driven by—and become obsessed with—the idea of greatness. Most people love the idea of it rather than invest in what that truly means. I’ve learned over time that greatness is not always in the obvious crossing of a milestone, such as a diploma or achievement award. It is often an illusion to equate success with public recognition, or even the items listed on a resume. To me, greatness comes in the small, meaningful acts that I do for others: writing a recommendation letter that helps a student get a scholarship or get into an undergraduate program, working with a student one-on-one and seeing him/her finally grasp concepts, and more.

I used to say “yes” to all of the opportunities that could lead me to greatness, but that became exhaustive and overwhelming; now I’m more selective. Now that I’m older, I definitely feel like I can scale back a bit and not do so much to “prove” myself to others. Also, it’s important to remember that people are inadvertently influenced by everything you do. Positivity breeds positivity. I believe success is contagious, too—meaning it influences the state of mind of those around you. I feel that I’ve found a good balance and cultivated a strong sense of self: I’m riding the wave of life and just letting everything happen organically, but also I’m calculating my next two or three moves. I hope that my actions inspire my students, my younger siblings, and any children I have with my husband someday.

Daniela Sow

 What challenges have you faced in pursuing these different interests and goals?

When I was majoring in Literature–and later getting my MFA in Poetry–I had a lot of people who tried to inflict doubt in me. They couldn’t imagine what kind of practical, income-producing job I was going to get in my field. In my heart, though, I knew that I was on the right path for me. Studying the art of poetry was liberating; I was authentically being me because I have always loved reading and writing. It takes a lot of prayer and inner strength to pursue what you believe is best for you. Never live the life others want you to live; let go of limiting beliefs and just trust your instinct. Don’t be afraid to grow up and take your passion seriously.

How did your teen years shape who you’ve become? 

In high school, not only did I take honors and A.P. English classes, but also in my free time, I filled eleven blank journals with my poetry. I have always loved the aesthetics of the written word. All of the rich exposure to various literature and writing has informed who I am and what I do today as an English teacher.

Did you ever imagine doing things like this as a teenager? How have you changed since those adolescent years?

I never ever thought I would become a teacher. I was so shy as a teen! I used to get serious anxiety at the thought of speaking in front of the class. I’m definitely more extroverted now, probably because of my college experience in performing and competing in spoken word poetry. The first time I ever read my own poetry in front of an audience was at UCSB, and my hands were shaking! Thankfully, being in front of people became easier with time and experience. I’m glad I’ve grown more confident. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Daniela performing a slam poem
Daniela performing a slam poem

Is there anything you would tell your teen self if you could go back in time?

Recently, I went through some of my hand-written personal journals that I saved from college, and I was shocked and dismayed at how often my entries would say: “I’m not good enough.” I didn’t realize then how major my self-validation issues were. Even when, in retrospect, I was at the top of my game—earning straight A’s, winning scholarships and awards, gaining a spot on a poetry slam team, running an open mic night that the local news channel filmed, etc.—I still never felt good enough. I felt average. I wish I could tell my younger self: “Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Yes, you are good enough. Yes, you will find a job that you love and are good at, so don’t stress. Keep up the passion and enthusiasm and positive attitude because these qualities will always attract success.”

Are there any other jobs, roles, or goals that you want to pursue in the future?

Definitely! For one, my husband and I talk about wanting kids; I can’t wait to be a mom someday. Also, as you may have guessed, teaching is my current primary focus and will be for a long time. I would love to chair campus committees and continue presenting at professional development conferences. The writer in me dreams of publishing books someday—I’m leaning towards children’s books and young adult novels. I would love to start a scholarship foundation in San Diego that benefits students who are studying in the creative arts; the Santa Barbara Foundation awarded me with a creative writing scholarship (twice) when I was a student, and I strongly believe in paying it forward. I see myself becoming more deeply rooted in my community, investing in the emerging youth.

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