Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Great Teacher's Life

Joyce on Grand Manan Island,
near the summer home of
Willa Cather
I know I said I'd blog today about May 4, 1970--and I will.  Tomorrow.

But today, instead, I want to write a little about what happened yesterday afternoon at Hiram College, where the English Department sponsored a reception for Dr. Joyce Dyer, who will be retiring at the end of the current academic year.

It was a wonderfully eclectic gathering of colleagues, students (current and former), friends, family (son Steve arrived with his wife, Melissa, and our two grandsons, Logan and Carson; Joyce had not known they were coming--a moment of great emotion), and others.

Her colleagues Mary Quade and David Anderson spoke movingly about their experiences with her; several students recalled her transformative (their word) effect on their lives.  And Joyce herself spoke briefly at the end, reading some words from Paul Auster, reciting a memorized passage from Henry James.  It was impossible not to weep.

But I wanted to write just a little today about the Joyce that her colleagues and students never really saw.  The Joyce I saw at home--the teacher preparing to teach.  Oddly, I don't believe I've ever watched Joyce teach a class.  I have certainly heard her, though!  When we were colleagues for two years at Western Reserve Academy (1979-1981), I often heard her as I walked in that lower hall in the "English Wing" of Seymour Hall.  As she became impassioned about what she was talking about (which never took very long), her voice would brighten and soar, gain texture and strength sufficient to carry aloft all those lucky students in her room.  If I hadn't admired her so profoundly, I would have been jealous.

But here's the Joyce at home ...  She is always preparing for class.  Always.  She is reading or writing or thinking.  I know that she carefully re-read, every year, those texts she had used before--not that there were all that many of those.  She frequently changed books, teaching what she was loving at the moment, using the novelty to animate her even more (though she's never suffered, in the decades I've known her, from a lack of animation!).

And grading?  Only those of you who have been her students know the massive effort she puts into her students' work.  I told some people last night--and I was not exaggerating in the slightest--that her comments on a student's paper--on one paper--exceed in word count all the comments I received from all of my college professors, combined, in four years!  She routinely spends an hour, two hours, on one essay.  It's astonishing.  But I know why she does it: She cares as much about her students' writing as she does about her own.  And when you feel that way, what else can you do but be thorough?

She never wastes time, does nothing.  In fact, in that regard, I am the worst influence in her life, for at the end of a long day, I will turn on the TV and watch a bad movie (sometimes, I confess, again and again).  She would never do that and tolerates it in me only because, well, she's Joyce.  She accepts people.  Even a late-night sluggard husband.

Her preparation does not end when the term ends.  When school is in recess, she is not.  She's reading.  Writing. (A writer herself, she knows how her ability to solve her own writing problems can later help her students.)   Traveling to places relevant to her teaching.  I don't believe that we have ever in our forty-two-year marriage taken a "vacation"--a time just lying around doing nothing.  We are always going someplace to see something, to stand on the ground where stood the writers we love--Dickinson, Frost, Cather, Crane (Hart and Stephen!), Chopin, O'Connor, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and on and on and on.

She has learned one of life's most wonderful lessons--pursuing your intellectual interests is the most exhilarating way to live.  We are never bored.

Joyce, age 2 & a half,
practices for her future
And one of her most wonderful assets as a teacher is her ability to create in her classroom--in her students--that same exhilaration.  For words, for ideas, for literature, for writing. Her students know she cares deeply about them and their work.  And so they respond.  And so they have responded since 1969 when she walked into her first classroom and  showed those lucky young people her intricate mind, her capacious heart.


Joyce does not know about this blog post--so hurry up and read it, for I have a feeling I'm going to get a "request" about it, very soon!

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