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Campus Celebrity: Professor Gray

Professor Gray is an English professor here at NC State.  I have had an English literature class with her and she is a great teacher.  She explains the curriculum really well and her class was fun because we read and went in-depth with so many poems and poets.  Over the semester we read some beautiful poems by William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and many others as well like T.S. Eliot. Here is a little bit about the amazing professor who made my first semester with poetry, an experience that wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be!
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I became a teacher for three reasons. One, I love the subject that I teach and I think it’s important that students learn of this subject because understanding of literature enhances people’s lives. Two, I love teaching because I encourage something that enriches and is important to people’s lives.  I went to a school in which a lot of my peers became professors and it was easier to think and become a professor.  Third, I enjoy being around people who are interested in thinking and new ideas.  At a university, there is that environment in which students are interested in that.  There is more freedom in setting up your classes and managing your time.

What is your favorite part about teaching?
It always makes me happy when I see students that didn’t like the subject when they came into the class and have a change of heart by the end of the semester or begin to read in a way that is more sophisticated than they did before.  I enjoy the feeling of success that I get from my students.  I love reading poetry aloud to my class and that is one of my favorite parts.  I also love that my relationship with the text changes over time.  The text that I pick to read and discuss in class change over time and also my appreciation for the text changes over time.  As I teach the text, I see it in a different way and I see why it is a great work and I may not have seen why it was a great work when I first read it.  It is a shifting relationship that I have with the text.  I see new things about it and my opinions shift.  What I appreciate about the text changes over time.  Also, I learn from what my students tell and write about the literature and poetry.

Who is your favorite writer or poet that we have talked about and studied this semester?

I tend to have favorite pieces.  But if I had to pick one, I would say John Keats.  I chose Keats because it’s a personal taste and his poetry is very beautiful.  I enjoy the beauty and eloquence of his poems.  It’s hard to choose a favorite author.  There are particular works I like especially.

If you could say a teacher should be in a single word, what would you say a teacher is?
Thinker.  I said thinker because it is the most central part to teaching.  A teacher has to be an active thinker about your subject and your students and thinking ties both together.

If you could say one thing to N.C. State students, what would it be?
I would say to try to focus more on learning the subject than on their grades.  Students should enjoy the subject.  Sometimes students are so focused on getting a particular grade that it gets in the way of learning.  I believe that if you focus on learning the subject, then your grades will increase along with your increase of focus on the subject.  It’s also more enjoyable.

What would you say is the most difficult part of being a teacher?
The most difficult part of being a teacher is balancing all the things you have to think about and do.  You have to prepare and know your subject well.  You have to prepare your ideas well and think about what will appeal to your students.  You have to be open to student ideas and tell them when they are not right about something.   A teacher also has to be responsive and sensitive to student’s emotions.  If you focus on one area too much, then you forget about other areas and then you get in trouble.  It’s hard to hold all these parts together.

Do you not like any part of your job like having to grade so many papers?
I don’t like having to grade so many papers.  I and other teachers do not like it when classes become too large.  You can lecture effectively to a larger group.  But teaching is something that takes place in a smaller setting.  You have so many papers and assignments to grade if the class becomes too large.  There is not enough time to reread material for class if there are too many papers and assignments to grade.  I would say that most teachers prefer not to grade because it is passing judgment.  Also, when a student really enjoys and learns the subject you feel bad that you have to give them a bad grade because they just didn’t understand the subject when they came in or weren’t as strong in the subject when they first came in.
What do you love most about literature?
It’s hard to choose one thing.  One thing is that when you read something that is eloquent, it gives you words for your own thoughts and perceptions that you might not have been able to come up with yourself.  You did not have that imaginative way of putting words together.  Another part of literature that I love would be its power to enchant (it casts a spell on you and compels your attention.  It creates a world you can participate in or a vision) and just the beauty of the language that you find often.  I also love the magic of the imaginative creation.

What is your favorite kind of book or what is your favorite book?
I like to read lots of different kinds.  I don’t have a single favorite book.  I can tell you some that I enjoy a lot.  I reread books I have read before.  You see things that you did not notice before because you know the plot and the characters.  You can appreciate the way it is written that you did not notice before.  I enjoy this about literature.  Not all literature has this way of making you appreciate literature and how your thoughts and views of literature changes over time.  Some kinds of book I don’t read are science fiction or fantasy or romances in the modern sense.  I like mysteries and I read good mysteries when I want some light reading.  I like books that convey in great detail a particular place.  I’m interested in history and I like reading about history in non-fiction.  I don’t like satire as some other forms of literature.  I enjoy it sometimes, but it’s not my favorite.  I like lyrical books and I like lyrical poetry though it does not always to be poetry.  I like the lyrical voice.

You talked about nature a lot in the poems we have discussed this year.  You talked about one poem that was related to snow when it was one snowing.  What are some of your favorite things about nature?
It’s hard to choose one thing.  I’m a nature lover.  The natural world is very beautiful and very terrible at the same time.  A lot of literature reflects this.  One of the favorite poems I taught in your class is Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth.  I don’t quite agree with Wordsworth, but I love the poem.  I love the images that it conjures up in my mind.  In nature, I enjoy the changing of the seasons.  I enjoy the snow and the ocean.  I like watching nature.  I’m not someone who goes mountain climbing.  I look out my window a lot and I enjoy seeing what the weather will be like during that day.  I think people are losing a respect for nature and I think it’s dangerous and sad.  Human beings have learned to control nature and do sophisticated things with nature.  I share a romantic sense of nature as a majestic entity.  I don’t think that people feel it as much as they did in the past.  I think people are cut off from nature.  I like teaching because I teach about nature and it helps my students to see nature in a new way and to restore that connection with nature.

If you could have one wish, what would it be?
If I could have one wish for the world, it would be that people could live in peace with one another and with nature.  Also, I wish that poverty could be eliminated.

If you could meet any poet or author, which poet or author would you decide to meet?
It’s hard to say.  There are a lot of poets I would like to meet to see what their lives are like.  I would have like to have met William Maxwell, an American novelist.  He died recently.  I heard he was a pleasant person and I would like to have met him.  I would have told him how much I appreciated his writing.  Maxwell wrote a number of novels.

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