On August 31, at about 2:30 in the afternoon Eastern Time, Nancy Johnson, Professor of English at Ohio State University, shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving so very many of us bereft and grieving. Nancy (as I never learned not to call her!) was a great teacher. A GREAT teacher.
As I flew to Ohio that day in a futile attempt to be with her, I kept thinking of that part of her identity. Like all of us, she was many things: daughter, sister, mother, partner, writer, reader, researcher, friend, gardener, artist. And more. She was all those things, along with being a magnificent teacher, as legions of her students will testify. I first met Nancy at a conference in 1980, I think, and then I had the great good fortune to be on the hiring committee that offered her a position at the University of British Columbia in 1981, where she taught until 1990. I remember her impish grin, her quick wit, the funny spin she put on almost everything. I remember her kindness, her way of being absolutely present in the moment. And I remember her passion for pedagogy and for students. Her intense attentiveness to students was a gift that kept on giving: I have seen her, patiently and quietly, draw out of students insights they wouldn’t have imagined they could have, ideas for articles and talks and dissertations that they had never dreamed of.
So. I’ve been thinking this week not only of Nancy, of her brilliance in the classroom and of her deep caring for students, but also of all great teachers. Somehow, in this time of near despair at a world spun out of control, hovering on the brink of disaster and presided over by a person without a shred of integrity, thinking of good teachers—of those who in Marge Piercy’s words do “the work of the world” and keep on doing it in spite of everything—lifts my spirits and touches my heart. So here’s to all those teachers and to one teacher in particular: Nancy Johnson.
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