If you spot English professor Coleen Grissom walking to the ladies room on the third floor of Northrup Hall, toothbrush in hand, be assured that she is preparing to teach a class. A longtime dean of students at Trinity, she now may be looking for ways to juxtapose the color blue with beloved poodles and cats and her favorite books.
How do you motivate your students?
Honestly, I have never had any significant challenge in motivating Trinity students; on the first day of class, I distribute and go over a list of expectations I have of them and expectations they should have of me. Rarely does any student misunderstand those. Almost always, I have found my students eager to learn and to improve their skills of critical thinking as well as those for communicating clearly both orally and in writing.
What are some of your pre-class rituals?
I read over my prepared notes for class, make sure I have the right notes and the right text in my briefcase, and, before the afternoon class, always apply fresh makeup, and brush my teeth. (This last is a suggestion I received years ago from a Trinity alum who graduated from our MAT program and learned the wisdom of these preparations as a high school teacher!)
How did you get involved in your area of expertise?
Most of my career I spent as a student affairs administrator, but I always taught one course in the English department. My "expertise" usually resulted from whatever the department needed at the time – courses in the continental novel, seminars for first years, and, finally, a focus on contemporary American novels and short stories.
What is your favorite aspect of teaching? Least favorite? Why?
My favorite is – and always has been – leading informed discussions of the readings with intelligent, articulate young adults. My least favorite is grading their essays. The reasons for this favorite and least favorite are obvious: the first is fun and exciting; the second is usually boring.
Who inspires you? Why?
I have long been inspired by the writings of favorite contemporaries – Atwood, Updike, Munro, Kingsolver, Russo, Erdrich – because of their genius with prose and their deep understanding of what's important in life. My other long-standing inspiration has been Bette Midler, a genius in conveying a clear view of what matters in this life and the critical requirement to develop a sense of the absurd.
What book are you reading now?
I am re-reading My Name is Lucy Barton and Oryx and Crake in preparation for leading discussions of both in classes.
What is your favorite book of all time and why?
Mine is and has long been E.B. White's Charlotte's Web because of the perfection of the prose and the messages about the importance of strong friendships and clear, precise writing.
Favorite color? Why?
Blue. I think it has to do with the glory of the sky.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
I cannot imagine doing anything other than "teaching."
What sound do you love? The sound you hate? Why?
I love the sound of the purring of one of my cats and the satisfied sigh of one of my dogs curling up beside me. The sound I hate most lately is the voice of Donald Trump – the bullying, blustery tone as well as the content.
What's your favorite expression? Least favorite expression? Why?
I don't think I have any such thing though when I was an administrator, I frequently asked, in despair, "What's the matter with people?" It was also probably my least favorite.
If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be and why?
As many of my friends choose, I, too, would like to come back as one of my poodles or cats. I would appreciate the excellent food and unconditional love.
Favorite sports team? Why?
What a silly question! The San Antonio Spurs, of course. Because they are skilled players and fine representatives of what good men can be.
What is your favorite word? Your least favorite word? Why?
I've always loved the words "verisimilitude" and "juxtaposition." Bright students figure that out and work them into their responses. I don't believe I have a least favorite word.
Where would you like to retire?
Where I am right now – in a small home constructed for growing old in (walk-in shower, one floor) surrounded by the beauty of the Hill Country with tall oaks and the sounds of birds in these trees and the fountain water splashing. No sounds of humans – all of animals and of nature.