February 8, 2011


Faculty Spotlight: Joan Reeves Shares Her Love for Learning

Joan Reeves always knew she wanted to be a teacher—all she had ever dreamed of was being a teacher. When her father passed away the year she graduated from high school, there was no money for her to attend college. She was one step away from joining the Army following high school, which would have been a path to attending college, when fate interceded. Thanks to a very intuitive Army recruiter and a retired teacher in Flat Rock, Reeves enrolled at Northeast on a grant.

After attending Northeast, she knew she wanted to come back and teach. “I know that if Northeast had not been here for me when I graduated from high school, I might never have been able to make my dreams of becoming a teacher come true.” For that reason, Reeves knew she wanted to give something back to the institution that had given her her start. “I wanted to be in a profession that would allow me to work with young people and share the love I have for learning,” she stated.

When Reeves was hired to teach full time at NACC, she had two goals she hoped to accomplish—one, to establish an English honor society and two, to publish a student-generated literary magazine. “Through my work with Sigma Kappa Delta, I have done both. I presently serve as President of the national organization and can proudly say that we have one of the first chapters to be chartered and have initiated more students than any other chapter in the nation. This past year our chapter was voted Outstanding Chapter, an honor we have now achieved three times in 15 years. Because of my work with SKD, we have been able to produce an award-winning literary magazine, Aurora.”

Joan Reeves, English and Fine Arts Division
Director of English and Fine Arts and
Director of Student Activities

When asked what she loves most about the profession of teaching, Reeves answered: “Every day I get to go into a classroom and talk to young people about my favorite writers—it just doesn’t get any better than that.” Also, she has the opportunity to read the work of talented young people and encourages them to pursue the dream of getting their own work published. She likes to believe that what she does makes a difference in the lives of the students with whom she comes in contact, and that difference is not always related to literature and composition. “I try to be a good advisor to my students when they come to me with their problems. When I retire, I want people to be able to say she truly cared about her students and always did her best to help them. Just recently, I had one of those special moments when one of my students told me that she woke up that morning all excited because she was going to be able to come to my literature class—I almost cried.”

Reeves acknowledged the importance of role models in her life. One she thought of first is Rebecca Johnson Page, her college roommate. “I met Becky here at NACC in Mr. Brown’s American Literature II class,” she said. “She is the kind of parent, daughter, friend, and teacher that I want to be more like. She always very selflessly puts others’ needs before her own.” Page retired from teaching after twenty-five years and then spearheaded a program in Dade County, Georgia, that works with needy families. “If I can be half the person Becky is, I will feel complete.” As teachers go, Reeves would want to be more like Dr. Don Noble, who was her favorite English professor from the University of Alabama. “He was the kind of teacher who not only seemed to know everything but also communicated his knowledge in such an entertaining manner that we students wanted to know everything he knew.”

Although she has lots of favorite authors, Reeves particularly likes Appalachian writers. “Reading Lee Smith, Silas House, Pam Duncan, and Ron Rash, is like talking to a good friend. Being able to coordinate the college’s Arts and Humanities Speaker’s Forum has been such a gratifying experience. I am so grateful to Dr. Campbell for letting me work with this project because it has given me the chance to share my love for Appalachian literature with my students and colleagues.” Through this work Reeves has made a number of good friends in the writing community which makes it easier every year to find quality writers to participate in the college’s speaker’s forum.

Reeves actually has several favorite quotes, but one is by her favorite poet, Billy Collins. “Collins is also a teacher, and his quote sums up exactly what I hope to accomplish with my students--‘Participate in your education. Speak up in class, write in the margins; the margins of the world await your notation.’ This quote suggests that students are just as responsible for their education as a teacher is. I want my students to be active learners not passive ones.”

Reeves probably takes more satisfaction when she sees those students who start in a basic English class and then go on to finish a bachelor’s or master’s degree than any others she teaches. “I also keep up with my former Student Government Association officers and am quite proud of all their accomplishments,” she said. “Some of them have established themselves in the arts while others have become successful teachers, engineers, doctors, and lawyers. I quite literally am as proud of them as I am my own children. In fact, Dr. Pendley (Dr. Charles Pendley, President of Northeast from 1982 to 2001) always called me ‘Mama Joan’; I think he did that because he knew that my students were my children. Not long ago, one of my colleagues just asked, ‘How are your kids?’ My immediate response was, ‘Oh, I have the best students this semester. I am sure it is going to be a good year.’ Then she said, ‘No, Mrs. Reeves, I meant your children.’”

Reeves readily shares information about her children, who are also Northeast products. “Although I sometimes get my school kids confused with those who are my flesh and blood, I am quite proud of my flesh and blood children. I can proudly say that all my children attended NACC before transferring elsewhere,” she offers. Her oldest, Jonathan lives in Eugene, Oregon, and as she often tells her students “Henry David Thoreau is alive and well.” Her middle child, Jason, attended NACC and completed a BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design. He now lives and works in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Finally, her daughter, Jessica, is teaching Spanish for Lewis County High School in Hohenwald, Tennessee. “One of my proudest moments came this summer when I had two of Jessica’s seniors from Pisgah High School in my English 101/102 class,” said Reeves. “At one point I commented on how well prepared they were for writing their research papers, and all they said was, ‘Well, we had your daughter for English.’ I do not think I will ever forget that moment. What a proud mother and teacher I was to know that my child (and former student) had made such a good teacher and was now continuing the work I started in 1974 when I started teaching.”

Always excited to recommend the field of teaching to those interested, Reeves offered: “If you love your subject area and you love working with young people, then you have the essential qualities to be a good teacher. It also helps to have patience and know that not all students learn at the same rate, so you have to be willing to hang in there with that student for as long as he needs you to. No matter what anyone tells you about the lack of teaching jobs, if you are passionate about being a teacher, then you must pursue your dream. The students of the world need that person in the classroom—the one who is truly passionate about the profession, not someone who has chosen teaching just because of June and July.”

If Reeves were to write a book about experience as an instructor, she would entitle it No Regrets: One Teacher’s Story. She went on to say, “Just this morning I was talking to someone about working, and I realized that I love my job. I am so lucky to work at a place where the people I work with are like family—we all care about each other and share in each other’s triumphs as well as disappointments. I really do have the best job in the world.”

In another poem by Billy Collins, “Schoolsville,” Collins says:

Once in a while a student knocks on the door
with a term paper fifteen years late
or a question about Yeats or double-spacing.
And sometimes one will appear in a windowpane
to watch me lecturing the wallpaper,
quizzing the chandelier, reprimanding the air.

“I am quite certain that one day I will be that teacher who is no longer in the classroom but is still ‘lecturing the wallpaper, quizzing the chandelier, reprimanding the air,’” said Reeves.

Reeves has been an instructor of English at NACC since 1986. She is also Division Director of English and Fine Arts and the Director of Student Activities.

Article written by Debra A. Barrentine, Director of Promotions and Marketing. Photo provided by Joan Reeves.