Public Relations and Marketing Communications
ALPHARETTA, Ga–“It never gets old.”
After more than a half-century in the classroom, Jane Sullivan still loves teaching and inspiring her students to improve their writing skills, tell their stories, and in the process, learn how to communicate effectively.
Sullivan is the recipient of the 2022-23 Perimeter College Adjunct Faculty Award. She teaches on the Alpharetta Campus.
“I am incredibly pleased and honored to receive the award. For me it is special,” said the 84-year-old English instructor said.
Sullivan majored in American Literature at Colby College in Maine and received her master’s from Purdue University. She taught high school briefly in Indiana before moving to Houston, Texas, where she taught high school for 24 years before “retiring “in 1996. After a very brief break, she returned to teaching English at a Houston Community College, She moved to Georgia in 2000—and started teaching again at what was then the Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody Campus. She is now in her 23rd year of teaching as an adjunct professor at Perimeter College.
“Teaching was the obvious choice for me—I had two small children, and I was going to have the summers off,” she said. But what began as a practical solution for her family, turned into a passion, she said.
“I am serious—teaching is fun for me,” she said. “One of the things I love about teaching English is watching the students improve their writing and watching them gain confidence that they can write. That’s exciting to me. Plus, learning their personalities each year—they’re great.”
Despite her years of experience, she tries not the teach the same way twice. The material is the same, just not the approach, she said.
“I remember in college I watched as an instructor brought out a dog-eared pad of legal paper to teach his class—and I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s been teaching from the same notes for years.’”
Sullivan does use a tried-and-true method to get her students comfortable in class. “The first day, I consider myself the victim, and they’re silently dissecting me in class,” she said. “Then the second day, the first thing I do to break the ice is to have them interview each other and introduce their partner to the class. After they do the interviews, the whole tone of the class will change. That’s been consistent for years.”
She loves giving her students opportunities to express themselves comfortably in class. “I don’t have to agree with what you say, but just prove it and back up what you say,” she said. “Within academic writing assignments, I let them know the formula, and then give them opportunities to be creative, with short stories and poetry and rap. The only thing I tell them not to do–if they rap (in my class) they can’t rap about doing bad things to their mother,” she said with a laugh.
Being authentic is important, she said. “If you are not authentic they will pick up on it instantly,” she said. “It’s important for your students to let them know I think they are individuals and they’re worthy and capable.”
She knows her students will come to class differently prepared. She lets them know she recognizes that as well.
“There are concrete kids and abstract kids,” she said. “Some come to class ready with notebooks, pen, and papers, and thrive in a structured environment. The abstract students—well, ‘books, we need a book?’ But writing requires both the concrete and the abstract,” she said. “And I teach both ways. What is different is only their learning modalities—and by the way, I consider myself an abstract learner.”
She recalls her first year of teaching.
“I was terrified,” she said.
“Well now, I’m not terrified—you just have to learn to read the room.”
Sullivan said she’ll continue to teach “as long as I physically can—and as long as I’m still having fun.”
Story by Rebecca Rakoczy
Photo by Bill Roa