I am an English major. English has always been my subject, and I have always excelled in it. I used to walk into an English class confident that I would do well, that the teacher would see my work and immediately approve. And this was always the case—until Dr. Schwebel’s class. She was the first English professor who truly challenged me without making me resentful. While other teachers would occasionally find fault with something I wrote, I usually felt the criticism to be subjective and nitpicky. Dr. Schwebel asked more of me than anyone else ever had---and the most difficult part was that I knew her criticism was justified. She could simultaneously laud my writing style and point out inexcusable errors in my analysis. Though I was sometimes frustrated, I knew she was right, and she got me to push myself in a way that no other teacher had.
I didn’t know her well—I was only her student for a single semester. Yet, in a way I knew her intimately. Twice a week for over four months I listened to her, watched her, noted her funky wardrobe. In every day of her class her unique personality shone through. She made Beowulf relevant. She compared Shakespeare and Donne to modern day love ballads. She was the only person I ever met who could use the word “oogy” and still sound intelligent. She was one of the most brilliant teachers I have ever had, yet she never condescended or talked over our heads. Her passion for what she taught was unmatched. Her passion for life was astounding. She was one of the most vibrant, zany people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
And she was so nice. She was always up for a chat, if only to exchange a few words after class. I would hang back when class ended, even if I had nothing to say, just to hear her speak to my friend (who also worshipped her). When I had a question about how to improve my essay, I knew I could write her an email and expect a lengthy response within a day. At her Survey of English Lit I final, when I couldn't think of an answer, one I knew I knew, I asked her about it, and she was so sympathetic to my memory block, yet utterly refused to give me any hint. I couldn’t come up with the answer, but I did well on the final anyway. A few weeks after school ended, after I had seen my grade in her class (and been pleasantly shocked), I wrote her to ask about my final essay. I wanted to know what she thought of it, since I had written more drafts for it than any other essay I had ever composed—and because I had done so in a fervent attempt to meet her incredibly high standards. She responded with an amazingly detailed breakdown of everything that was done well, as well as what could be improved in my paper. Her suggestions were typically insightful, and her praise generous. Her appreciation for what I had written meant that much more to me because of the hard work I had put in to deserve it.
The tragedy of her passing has hurt and confused me. How could this happen? I wasn’t done learning from her. And still, I am not done learning from her. Remembering her, I know I will push myself harder and expect more from myself than I did before. Those lucky enough to have had an instructor like her will understand how a teacher who has pushed you to improve really feels like a friend. The impact she has had on my life will reach far beyond the single semester I was privileged to know her.