By Shannah Cotton, Staff Reporter
After 21 years of teaching writing courses at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF), published author Elizabeth Cooke, is finishing up the spring 2013 semester and heading into retirement.
Cooke teaches a first year writing seminar and occasional courses in the BFA program such as Writing the Literary Novel, and Writing for Children and Young Adults.
“Being in a classroom where students engage–heart and mind–with ideas that are new to them—that’s the most rewarding part of teaching for me,” said Cooke with a small smile forming on her lips.
Recent UMF alumni Kate Johnson took her first writing class ever with Cooke in the spring of 2009. It was there that Johnson began a novel that she would continue to work on with Cooke’s help through directed study.
“Elizabeth is the professor you can call in the middle of the night if your dog died, if you had a bad day or are in a crisis. But, she’s also the professor that will challenge you. You wouldn’t think that coming from how sweet she is, but she’ll keep you moving,” said Johnson, “She’s been a professor, a second-mother, and a best friend to me.”
Fellow UMF English Professor Luann Yetter, who’s known Cooke for 20 years, noted Cooke’s tendency to get personal with students in a positive way, and added “It’s one of the things that keeps her motivated. I definitely think it can enhance the learning process when it comes naturally, like it does to Elizabeth.”
“She’s the most compassionate colleague I’ve ever had,” said Eric Brown, an English Professor at UMF, “And I know it shows in her classroom—the product of that kind of compassion.”
Charles Young, a freshman at UMF and a student from the fall 2012 semester of Cooke’s first year writing seminar said “The thing that makes Elizabeth a strong first year professor is her warm, inviting personality combined with her high expectations of her students.”
Cooke herself has a more modest view of the impact she’s made at UMF. “I am only a half-time person and feel I am pretty unimportant in the large picture,” said Cooke very humbly.
“She is a half time professor but she does full time work,” Brown said on his observations of Cooke over the nine years he’s known her.
Cooke has two writing projects she plans to develop as she goes into retirement, “One is a memoir that deals with my 36 years of teaching, woven into different life events”.
Cooke also looks forward to more time spent with her children and grandchildren, as well as moving to her camp in Rangely, surrounded by the woods that she loves.
“I’ll miss so much—looking at literature and excellent writing, applying it to all our lives, and being able to tell students what I notice about them,” Cooke said, the words rolling off her tongue with ease, with a small smile reaching all the way to her eyes.