Faculty Spotlight: Devon Polderman
November 6, 2012
By Chris Terry (MFA '12)
If you went back in time and asked undergrad-aged Devon Polderman if he’d pursue a career as a writing teacher, he would laugh in your face. He didn’t picture himself working in education or even becoming a writer – he went to Hope College in Holland, Michigan, to play football and study film.
“I’m still stunned that I returned to school after that,” says Polderman. “Undergrad was a giant exercise in tedium for me. I slept through high school and undergrad because it was easy and everybody let me do it, and I'm still a little bit angry that it wasn’t more challenging. That memory motivates me to engage students in the process of learning, because my fundamental belief is that people like to learn.”
Polderman teaches the core Fiction Writing workshops, along with the course Practice Teaching: Tutor Training, where students are paid to conduct one-on-one tutoring sessions with other students. He is also the consultant for the Fiction Writing department’s teaching outreach programs, where students lead writing workshops in the community, often in conjunction with Chicago nonprofits.
Before coming to Columbia, Polderman worked on country and hip-hop music video sets in New York City, including the award-winning video for Reba McEntire’s “Does He Love You?”
Polderman moved to LA in 1993, the week before the big earthquake slowed down the film industry. “I ended up spending a year writing a novel as a way to put my creative energy somewhere while I was bouncing in bars to make the rent. You can always get bouncer or construction work when you used to be a college lineman.”
Things changed for Polderman when he moved to Chicago in 1995 and saw an ad for the Institute of Reading Development (IRD). “The requirements were: love books, like kids, and have a car. I had all three of those things,” says Polderman. “That first summer, I taught 500 students and found that I really, really enjoyed teaching. There are few things as fun as teaching a bunch of second- and third-graders how to read and enjoy stories.”
In 1996, while working as a teacher manager for IRD, Polderman enrolled in the Fiction Writing grad program at Columbia College Chicago. “Storytelling is why I went into film in the first place,” he says. “While doing that, I had become very taken with storytelling in prose, but it felt like I was in a vacuum because I didn't know anybody in LA or New York who wrote - technology was not what it is now. I felt adrift and wanted some way of knowing if I should waste my time on this anymore.”
The MFA led to the teaching work that Polderman does today. He still returns to something he was told at his first job at IRD: “‘Knowledge is not ours to keep. We are obligated to pass it along.’ That's been my driving motivation with teaching. That’s an important ideal for me.”