Several years after I first started teaching, an administrator encouraged me to go back to school and earn a post-graduate degree. I was young and single, he explained, and with no other major responsibilities besides my teaching position, going back to school would never be easier. I took his advice, enrolled in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, and took the first steps in earning a Master's Degree in Elementary Ed.
I was allowed one elective, and I chose 20th Century British Fiction, taught by Dr. George Kearns. This was the primary reason:
|It was on the reading list. I had always wanted to read this book, but was intimidated by its impenetrability. I felt I needed a strong hand to guide me through the text.|
I will never forget that first class period. It didn't take long before my excitement turned to anxiety and fear. As a grad student, I was in a small seminar with other grad students. But this class was not an elective for them; they were pursuing advanced degrees in the field of literature, and their knowledge far eclipsed mine. Words I had never heard of, like deconstruction
and unfamiliar names, like Derrida
were being thrown around at a rapid clip. At times I felt like I was listening to a foreign language. The professor, Dr. Kearns, seemed likable enough, but at some point during that first class I decided that I was in over my head and would need to talk to him about dropping the class.
Alone in the room with him after all the students had left, I expressed my concerns. I will never forget what he said.
"You like to read books, right?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied.
"And you have thoughts about what you read."
He smiled, and said reassuringly, "That's all you need. You'll be just fine. See you next week."
Dr. Kearns turned out to be one of the best teachers I ever had. He led us all through Joyce, as well as Beckett, Forster, Woolf, Lawrence, Lessing, Henry Green, and Elizabeth Bowen with humor, grace, and profound insight. He valued everyone's opinion, mine included. With his encouragement, I overcame my sense of intimidation, and became a regular contributor to class discussions. And talk about feedback:
|These are the comments he wrote in response to a paper I submitted on D.H. Lawrence's novel Women in Love. And he did this for everybody.|
This meant a lot to me:
|Did he hold me to a different standard than the other students in the class? I'll never know.|
Looking for a picture of him to accompany this post, I was saddened to learn that he had passed away in September of 2010 at the age of 82. His obituary described him as, "An inspirational teacher, whose brilliant mind, dry wit, and immense learning were informed by great kindness." That's exactly how I knew him. I was one of perhaps thousands of students who had sat in his classes, and I am quite certain that he would not have remembered me. But I remember him. And on Teacher Appreciation Week 2015 I'd like to say: thank you Dr. Kearns.