Today’s Think Write Thursday topic is to write about a favorite teacher. And to also work in a bit of gratitude, too.
I have been very fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers over the years. My kindergarten teacher was a close friend of my mom’s and I adored her. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Sykes, and I had a very special relationship and I can see her face to this day. I had some great teachers in junior high and high school; I am even friends with one on Facebook. (Hi, Mr. Paine!) And then there was college. Oh, college. I had such a fabulous experience at Wheaton and I owe a big part of that to the wonderful professors there. My absolute favorite, and the one I want to write about today, was Sheila Shaw.
Professor Shaw taught 18th and 19th century English literature and I was an English major so we were bound to cross paths eventually but, luckily for me, I met her my 2nd semester of my freshman year. I was in a survey class and she guest lectured on the book Pamela. She was so smart and also funny and extremely engaging and I think I fell in love with her a little bit right then. And I became determined to take every class of hers that I could. And I did. Nineteenth century women’s literature, English classics, and more. We read everything from The Woman in White to all of Jane Austen (Professor Shaw carried a book bag that said, “I’d Rather be Reading Jane Austen”) and Dickens and so much more. She opened my world to classics that were good, not just classics you had to read. I wrote paper after paper for her. Long papers full of themes and interpretations and criticisms. She taught me, more than anyone else ever had, how to write. Not just about books but about life and how books can illuminate life. How to find a theme and put it together and make it cohesive. Thinking about it now, I’d have to say that I’m not sure I could write this blog were it not for the things I learned from Sheila Shaw.
In the fall of my junior year Professor Shaw told me that she would be on sabbatical for my senior year. I was crushed because I had been planning to take my senior seminar course with her. I applied for, and received, special permission to take my senior seminar in my junior year and we spent an entire semester reading, discussing and writing about George Eliot. And it was fabulous and everything I’d ever dreamed of in a senior seminar. We read and read and read. Seriously, Middlemarch alone is over 900 pages. And there was also The Mill on the Floss (my favorite) and Adam Bede and Daniel Deronda and Felix Holt and yes, even Silas Marner. (which, I must point out, is the least tolerable of Eliot’s works and the one most often assigned in schools. turns everyone off from her right there and I find that extremely annoying.) My final paper was on religion as portrayed throughout Eliot’s books. It was a ton of work. A ton. But I loved getting to work closely with Professor Shaw and every insight she shared with me, every thoughtful comment, every office meeting, every cup of tea was valuable and meaningful and special. It was a glorious time in my college career and I owe so much of that to the care and nurturing and wisdom I received from this woman.
I never saw Sheila Shaw after graduation, not for any particular reason, it just never happened. And she died a little over 3 years ago. I was sad to hear the news and spent a lot of time thinking about her and the influence she had on me, not just from 1984-1987 but in all the years since then. She changed the way I read and interpret books – not just the good stuff she had me read but all the books I’ve read since. And, given the amount I read, I guess it’s pretty easy to conclude that she was indeed the teacher that influenced me the most.
I can hear her voice in my head as I’m writing this post and it’s bittersweet. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had to study under Professor Shaw. I know it’s not something everyone gets to experience – not everyone loves college, not everyone encounters a fabulous teacher who changes their view of the world – but I did and I am full of gratitude when I think of all of it.
The opportunity. The lessons. And Sheila Shaw.
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