Good Talk: Mrs. Morris

Meet the English teacher who really wishes you would stop saying “impactful.”

Julia Poppa, Photography Editor

How long have you been teaching?

This is my 25th year of teaching and my 22nd at NA.

What inspired you to start teaching?

I was an anxious and lonely kid who found an enriching life in books. When my 8th grade English teacher noticed I was good at reading and writing, she gave me a confidence I didn’t have and a pathway to help others find the riches I had found.

What are your favorite and least favorite of the books you teach?

The books I teach are like my students—they’re all my favorite. But my least favorite to reread each year is Invisible Man.

What do you think is the most important quality a teacher can have?

A belief in their students’ willingness and ability to succeed.

What was the hardest part of transitioning to the hybrid model for you?

Simple classroom management. Everything I had done for 20+ years, such as daily conversations, noticing what my students are into, and sharing my excitement with them, was undermined by the time-suck of attendance and technology problems.

How did you meet Mr. Morris?

We were both getting our graduate degrees at Duquesne—mine for English, his for education—and were in a cross-listed class that explored teaching literature in the classroom. For our first date, we met up in the Steinbeck section of a bookstore and went to a play. You can see why I was impressed.

Did you have to learn to walk faster to match his walking pace or vice–versa?

Vice–versa. I was told by a friend I walk “aggressively.” Only tall people outpace me.

If you had to read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

The Thomas Hardy Anthology of Books.

If the same was true about one movie, what would it be?

Captain Fantastic. There are so many reasons to love that film.

What’s been your favorite TV show you’ve seen during quarantine?

Bojack Horseman. It has comedy, satire, absurdity, and deeply profound and moving storylines—and features a dog named Mr. Peanutbutter. What more can you ask for?

Who is your favorite author?

Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison—they wrote the most moving books I’ve ever read. There are many authors I appreciate and admire, but a book that deepens your understanding of who you are in this world is priceless.

What is your biggest pet peeve, teaching-related or not?

Leaving time on the microwave without hitting “clear.” It’s monstrous. Please tell my husband this.

If you could have a dinner party with any three people— alive, deceased, or even fictional— who would they be?

Rosalind from As You Like It, Euripides, and Jesus.

What’s one thing you’ve always wished you could do but have never been able to?

Own a lake house, where I could read all day, go kayaking, and then have friends over in the evening.

Suppose reincarnation is real, and you aren’t limited to being reincarnated as a human, what animal do you think you would want to be in your next life?

Definitely a golden eagle in the Canadian Rockies. I’ve always wanted to fly, and my views would be world-class. But I would only eat fish and plants, not mice. Gross.

What’s your favorite bird?

Definitely the loon. It both flies and swims, it’s playful, and its soothing call would be the soundtrack at my lake house.

What’s your favorite not-a-bird?

Dogs. We wouldn’t be human without them.

Do you have a favorite mollusk?

The Cuttlefish. I never knew it existed until a few years ago, and it’s fascinating.

What word do you wish didn’t exist, but you have no explanation as to why?

“Impactful”–my students sometimes use it and it makes my teeth hurt.

Do you have a favorite poem?

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by W.B. Yeats.

Do you have any thoughts on ducks?

I like how they go with the flow.

Do you have any advice for students who are feeling unmotivated while stuck at home?

I know if I had to live in my house all day during my senior year rather than play soccer, perform in musicals, and hang out with friends, I would have a hard time. But I would tell my “past self” that this would be a great opportunity to get to know my parents better as adults, to read more, to learn how to cook, and to prioritize spending time outdoors. This is a great opportunity to fill your time with unexpected pleasures.