New semester brings changes to English department
English teacher Matt Mitchell and daughter Ruby enjoy some time together. Mitchell, who is married to English department head Elizabeth Majerus, will spend the third quarter at home with Ruby, who was born on Sept. 16. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Majerus & Matt Mitchell
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 - 4:15pm
A NEW ENGLISH teacher greeted two-thirds of the sophomore class this week as the second semester began.
Matt Mitchell, husband of English department head Elizabeth Majerus, is taking the third quarter off to care for the couple's infant daughter, Ruby Majerus Mitchell.
Rosemary Laughlin, who taught full time at Uni from 1986 to 2003, takes over for Mitchell, making this the fourth time she's come out of retirement to help the English department.
The other third of the sophomores will continue to be taught by Suzanne Linder.
Born on Sept. 16 at Carle Foundation Hospital, Ruby weighed 8 pounds and 4 ounces. Certified nurse midwife Kristy Higgs delivered Ruby by water birth. The Mitchell-Majerus family now consists of four members; son Otis was born in 2003.
“I wouldn’t want to put our baby with child care this early if we could at all avoid it,” Mitchell said. “I think it's best for a baby to be with its parents for as long as possible.”
Laughlin was the department's obvious choice for stepping in while Mitchell looks after Ruby.
“We wanted to get someone who would pick up the class and move with it and not just occupy the pilot's chair during the time that I’m gone,” said Mitchell. “She is going to bring a lot to the table that I wouldn’t have.”
Before Laughlin's retirement in June 2003, she worked full time at Uni for 17 years, teaching all three sections of junior English and one section of subfreshman English.
"I always liked having a third of the subfreshmen, and I never wanted to give them up," said Laughlin. "It was always nice to see how they had changed when I got them as juniors."
Laughlin will teach from Mitchell’s syllabus. Students will spend the bulk of time during Mitchell’s absence reading “Emma” by Jane Austen.
“I would like to do what he wants as much as possible, but each teacher adds their own flair to the material,” said Laughlin.
This will be Laughlin’s fourth time coming back to Uni since her retirement. This will also be her second time back this year. In the fall she taught Adele Suslick's Asian-American Literature class while Suslick recovered from a burst appendix.
“I enjoyed taking over Suslick’s class,” said Laughlin. “It was such a normal but great feeling to get back in the classroom.”
Majerus, too, is back after a part-time schedule during the fall semester, which included maternity leave from mid-September to mid-November. She is working full time again, running the department and teaching creative writing and poetry.
According to Majerus, when she and Mitchell had their first child, Otis, she found that it was not easy balancing work and having a baby at home. Now that they have two young children, keeping this balance is even more challenging.
"One thing that makes it possible is that Matt is a great dad and very involved," she said.
During the fall, Mitchell's schedule was flexible, because he teaches half time and does freelance editing work at home. Majerus does school-related work such as grading after her kids go to sleep.
For Mitchell, the decision to take the third quarter off from teaching comes with a few regrets, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of being with his daughter.
“I’ve grown to really like discussing 'Emma' with the sophomores, and part of me is going to miss that, but this is a pretty awesome little baby, so I’m pretty excited about that,” Mitchell said. “I’m sure that I’m going to miss coming here every day, but at the same time this period of time is irreplaceable."