Classroom activity

Michael Dean
Illinois Math and Science Academy

Activity and In-Class Discussion

Students were asked to read the story in advance of our in-class discussion and to make note of passages of that they found notable or confusing. They were also encouraged to investigate the historical context of the story, but this was not explicitly required.

On the day of the class, students were arranged into small groups of three or four and asked to consider the following task:

Each of your groups is a newly formed nation that has fought long and hard to earn its independence.   You want to write a story that describes the importance of your independence and connects your national struggle with a wider audience. As a group, come up with a list of elements or themes that your story would showcase. After you compile your list, we will share your group’s list with the rest of the class, and you will be able to explain your choices.

Each group deliberated for fifteen minutes and afterwards shared their choices, which I wrote on the board. Most groups emphasized particular themes such as a “self-sacrifice” and “individuality” as being necessary for a national story of independence. Other groups focused on other aspects of the story such as setting and the type of characters that should be featured. One group explained that “a national story should feature generals and the people who fought for it.” Another group disagreed and suggested that a story about independence should feature “everyday citizens because a country is not well-represented by a military.” Other students emphasized the need to vilify the enemy of their new nation, and the class quickly came to a strong consensus that any violent revolution needed to be firmly justified if they wanted to earn the approval of a broader audience.

After roughly fifteen minutes of sharing their group work, I shifted the discussion to “Theresa” and asked whether or not the short story matched their blueprint for their conceptualized stories. In responding, students were quick to draw connections between Theresa and her family and the “everyday citizens” mentioned during the group reports. Similarly, students pointed out that the French military was characterized by its violence and cruelty. From these connections, I asked the students to expand on the characterization of Theresa and her family. One student pointed out that the story highlighted the actions of women instead of men, which he found surprising. Another student remarked how Theresa chose her patriotic duty over the love for her family and how that helped the author establish the need for sacrifice in a revolution or act of independence.

Lesson Plan: Alexis McGee and ReAnna Roby

As doctoral students, we—Alexis McGee and ReAnna Roby—see the need to disrupt the skewed perceptions of Black Feminism illustrated in texts, characters, and conversations found in not only our daily lives but also the academy. We see the opportunity to utilize “Theresa, A ___ Haytien Tale,” in English classrooms—more specifically World Literature, Comparative Literature, Women’s Literature—and/or Literacy and Education courses housed in Black Studies or emphasizing Black Studies as a way to document a change in Feminist perspectives. Continue reading “Lesson Plan: Alexis McGee and ReAnna Roby”

The Novel of Sentiment in a Short Story: Reflections on Teaching “Theresa”

Adam Kotlarczyk, Ph.D.
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy


I am fortunate to work with a population of gifted high school students, and when a colleague introduced me to “Theresa, A Haytien Tale” and its fascinatingly mysterious genesis in the fall of 2014, I was able to incorporate it quickly into my curriculum. It fit neatly into our sophomore core course that blends composition and American literature.

I teach the course more or less as a chronological survey, emphasizing the historicism and frequently taking New Historical perspectives. It is a two semester sequence, with the first semester covering Native American literatures and discovery up until 1900. Because the timeframe frequently overlaps with the American Studies curriculum, this approach works well, as the courses often reinforce each other. It also allows us to develop and explore, as a class, the shifting historic, philosophical, scientific, literary, and other influences as American literature evolves – what I call the story or narrative of American literature. It is this interplay of influences, the dialogue of history in the narrative of American literature, that my students and I found to be one of the most compelling aspects of “Theresa.” Continue reading “The Novel of Sentiment in a Short Story: Reflections on Teaching “Theresa””

Features of Independence: Teaching “Theresa – a Haytien Tale”

Michael Dean
Illinois Math and Science Academy


One of the core beliefs of the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) states that we believe that “diverse perspectives enrich understanding and inspire discovery and creativity,” and in keeping with that aim, I chose to participate in the Just Teach One: Early African American Print project. As a school primarily focused on STEM subjects, IMSA still offers a robust English curriculum that values and supports a diverse literary canon, and our incoming sophomores are asked to complete a two-part Literary Explorations course that features America texts from colonial era up to the 21st century.

During the first semester of this course, I assigned my students to read “Theresa: A Haytien Tale” as part of my “Slavery, Speeches, and Politics” unit that examined fiction and non-fiction such as excerpts from Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and selections from The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. The “Theresa” short story was assigned earlier in the unit as the class studied rhetorical strategies and discussed the persuasive qualities of different genres of writing. Continue reading “Features of Independence: Teaching “Theresa – a Haytien Tale””

Teaching “Theresa” in a Black Feminist Theories Graduate Seminar

Joycelyn Moody
Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature
University of Texas at San Antonio

I taught “Theresa” in a graduate seminar titled “Black Feminist Theory: Telling Academic Life” at the University of Texas at San Antonio during the Fall 2014 term. There were eight students; the extraordinary demographics were as follows: all women; five doctoral students and three Masters level; two students represented our university’s College of Education and Human Development while the rest of us were affiliated with the English Department; ethnically, the students identified in turn as African American (1), black and white (1), white (1), Puerto Rican (1), and Chicana (4, all queer-identified, as am I). These demographics richly informed our learning about “Theresa” with significant yet unplanned effects, as we each brought a unique awareness as well as a collective consciousness of multifarious forms of oppression, proceeding from gendered chauvinism and white supremacy and extending through homophobia and other hatreds. Continue reading “Teaching “Theresa” in a Black Feminist Theories Graduate Seminar”