Travelling to write: A chapter into teaching


Will Nacouzi

Katharine Harer, a former Skyline professor is explain her travels to Bali, Chile and Italy during her interview.

The Sky Cafe was busy while Katharine Harer ordered her cup of coffee: a decaf Mocha with light whipped cream. She offered to buy mine but I politely refused. Kind would be one word to describe her.

“I love rich and yummy food and drinks but I have the ability to compromise around my health and well-being, meaning that caffeine makes me crazy,” Harer says about her beverage choice.

After getting her drink, Harer went to the Fireside Dining Room to check out the Career Fair. She was on a mission to find a great pen, which makes her relatable.

Even if a college student may not be interested in school, a great, smooth writing pen makes a difference when needing the motivation to write down notes. She finally found a couple that she preferred. She also offered me one. No, she insisted that I take one. Sweet.

I took the pen because, like her, I appreciate pens as well. Especially free ones. After all, she is a writer and a poet, who knew that I too loved pens.

We sat outside since it was a beautiful day. Birds were singing, the sun was oozing with warmth and the rain puddles from the day before were mostly dried up.

Throughout the interview, Harer waved, smiled and talked to faculty, staff and students when they passed by. All the people she connected with had a smile on their faces as they continued to their destinations.

Lavinia Zanassi, faculty coordinator and counselor for Career Services at Skyline College has known Harer for many years from working with her.

“She’s one of those rare personalities who combines enthusiasm and experience,” Zanassi reflects. “She’s very committed to her profession, she loves teaching.”


The Start of the Journey

Harer has made an impact in people’s lives through her writings, teachings and experiences. She’s done this by telling a story so she can be of service to help others and connect with her community.

“I think the part of teaching that really is an indicator as a connection is that she’s so open minded and that she teaches creative writing,” Zanassi says. “It’s kind of an interesting reflection of the actual discipline that she teaches is a reflection on how she lives her life.”

As a former full-time professor at Skyline, Harer taught English for over 39 years. She started her teaching career at the college in 1978. However, it was not with college students at first. She was teaching a high school reading class to high school students who came to Skyline College. Later in her teaching career, Harer started teaching creative writing.

“Once I did it with the high school kids, which was fun, they offered me another class with community college students,” Harer says. “That’s when I realized this was my level, these were my people.”

Harer emphasized that teaching at Skyline gave her a larger demographic of students to teach and connect with because of their ages, backgrounds and their reasons for getting an education at Skyline.

“(I’ve) stayed here for 39 years because I love it,” Harer says. “I feel as if I can really be of service here at Skyline, teaching any kind of writing and English skills. I feel like I can help students (realize) that they enjoy learning with me.”

As a retired professor, she still works part-time during the fall semester and teaches one class.

“It feels as if I’m not just getting people through a required class,” Harer says. “I feel like I’m really reaching my students by the kinds of books that I choose we read together and by how we work with them in the reading.”

Programs in Collaboration

One of the programs Harer has worked with is California Poets in the Schools, a state-wide program that encourages writers of all ages to express themselves creatively through writing.

Zanassi says Harer has been involved with students who want to be writers or have an interest in communication studies. She is able to inspire others by talking about her life and writing.

Being of Service to the Community

Harer’s parents worked in San Francisco. Her father was a longshoreman, working on the docks while her mother was an office worker.

The philosophy of being in service comes from her parents being “working class people,” who were in unions themselves.

“I grew up in a union family and that’s why I do union work,” Harer says as she points out her red AFT 1493 T-shirt. The tee is meant to promote the San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers and to show support for their contract campaign, since the union has been without a contract for eight years now.

Within the first few years of being a professor, she volunteered for the union. She started off as an officer since the union does not have a board committee. Harer officially became an officer 20 years ago and now serves as the co-vice president of the AFT 1493’s executive committee.

Part of her job is to use money from the organization’s fund to welcome all the new full-time professors and give them special welcome bags. The goal of doing this is to create a personal connection with teachers and be a support system for the members.

Other Works and Compilations

Harer has been published numerous times in journals, six personal collections and newspapers. Her writing has been in the San Francisco Chronicle because the Poet Laureate of San Francisco chose a poem of hers to be included in the paper. This helped pave her way into a collection of poems called “The Other Side of the Postcard,” which was a creative collaboration between the San Francisco Public Library and the Poet Laureate.

Harer enjoys being published in anthologies because she likes seeing her writing with other writers. Some of the topics of her published works range from music, baseball, San Francisco and travelling.

She’s currently trying to get into an anthology in response to the Trump Regime and the change in the political climate of the United States.

Harer recently published a compilation of poems last year based on her love of jazz. “Jazz and Other Hot Subjects” is her biggest collection of work to be released as of yet.

Words Travel Fast

The union brought sabbaticals back because they kind of lost them. When she was a negotiator, she made it a priority to get them back.

“It’s an important thing for people to have them at all levels but it’s a tradition for college,” Harer says.

Harer has traveled to Bali, Italy, Naples and Chile. She will be going back to Italy later this year for a month to focus on her writing.

During her time in Italy, Harer worked on two personal essays and one of them will be published in “The Best Women’s Travel Writing.”

She travels alone in order to write but she does travel with her husband as well. Eleven years ago, she went to Chile on a sabbatical for one month. These sabbaticals are like chapters of her own life where she hopes to publish her personal travel essays. Harer went on a personal tour to explore the native home of her favorite poet, Pablo Neruda.

When she got home from Chile, she was still on sabbatical and utilized the free time to continue writing. As a poet and a writer who has published her own work, visiting her idol’s home did help her find herself.

“I travel to find myself,” Harer says. “I write during my travels to find myself in my work and have people learn about it.”

Her list of accomplishments are still growing and she makes it her business to write and share her work in order to inspire others.

Harer is the type of person who is influenced by all the culture that surrounds her. We can learn a lesson or two from Harer when it comes to expanding your knowledge of cultures and using it to educate other people.