My students often tell me, after the standard first-day introductions, that they’ve never had a teacher like me before. When I first began teaching at twenty-two, just a few years older than most of my college-freshman students and younger than some, that statement troubled me. Was I doing it wrong? Was I doomed to be labeled “that weird teacher” for posterity? What I first took offense at I now take as a compliment, for such a statement usually means that I contradict, and thus work to expand, their preconceived, oversimplified notions of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be an authority figure, or what it looks like to endeavor to be both of those things at once.
As I get older, though, I’m less disturbed and more gratified by the supposed contradictions that make me who I am. I am also driven to look backward in order to look forward: to explore the women in my life who modeled those beautiful complexities of feminine power and helped me appreciate their value. Chief among those women is my great-grandmother, or “Gram.” She died when I was only eight years old, but in that short time, she taught me two things above all: to work hard at whatever I chose to do, and to always have compassion for others, because you never know what they may be suffering. This essay is my way of paying tribute to her, and to those values. Even as I have gone through the process of writing it, I feel that she is still teaching and encouraging me. The essay is not exhaustive, as it doesn’t cover her entire life. Moreover. I do not claim to be adept even at the amateur genealogy attempted in it, but the knowledge I gained through this research was certainly interesting to grapple with.
by Carly Taylor