T our buses destined for Shakespeare’s birthplace still travel past Susanne Paterson’s childhood home in the village of Warwickshire, England. “Growing up, the whole myth of Shakespeare was on my doorstep,” recalls Paterson. “But I wasn’t interested. I wanted to study something unfamiliar.”

So Paterson earned a degree in comparative literature and German with minors in art history and American literature at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England.

At 22, she came to the United States to earn her master’s degree and to see if she liked teaching. “In England, graduate students don’t teach until they’ve almost completed their doctoral work,” she explains.

From this new vantage point, she discovered her passion—Shakespeare. “I needed the distance from England to find Shakespeare,” says Paterson. She also found that she liked teaching. Her dissertation, completed this year through the University of Texas at Austin, is on Renaissance drama and courtesy literature.

“The Renaissance is similar to the 21st century because people in certain social groups were very concerned with shaping their appearance for others,” says Paterson. “Courtesy literature was used by people to help them learn appropriate behavior for specific circumstances. The point was primarily to impress others, and the literature often emphasizes the importance of having this behavior appear ‘effortless.’

“The irony is that it takes a great deal of effort to pose,” she says with a laugh. “And, as soon as the rules are widely known, they change. I think of these books as a type of early ‘self-help’ literature.”

In 1999, Paterson accepted the position at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester because she liked the campus and the mix of traditional and nontraditional students.

“Most are first-generation college students as am I,” notes Paterson, who teaches early British literature, grammar—a requisite course for all teacher-education students—and writing. “These students work really, really hard.”

Last fall, Sarah Huot, a junior majoring in English, studied early drama with Paterson. Huot turned in her writing assignment the week before having her baby. She gave birth to Olivia on Monday and was back in class on Wednesday. “Susi is a great teacher,” says Huot. “She’s welcoming and I am able to call her and discuss assignments.”

Paterson’s assignments challenge her students with real-life propositions: “Analyze a painting at the Currier Museum of Art and write to the museum’s board of directors and persuade them to buy it.” Or, “Discuss a Spike Lee film and include this as part of a job application letter to him.”

Her innovative approach even applies to grammar. “I’ll teach the history of English grammar and discuss Elizabethan punctuation. We see that, in many ways, grammar and punctuation are quite arbitrary,” says Paterson. “But really we learn grammar through writing.”

This past semester her grammar students constructed educational Web sites on different topics, ranging from definitions of English idioms for ESL students to the use of writing portfolios in elementary schools. Paterson plans to make their sites part of an ongoing, educational Web resource to be included on the English program’s home page.

In part, Paterson’s teaching philosophy derives from her love of Shakespeare. “Drama is a bridge between literature and society,” says Paterson. “Its roots are in the communal experience. I always like to ask students, ‘What would an audience think about this?’”

But her philosophy is also informed by her parents’ lives. “My father was orphaned and had to go down in a coal mine when he was 13,” says Paterson. “My mother is German, and she was pulled out of high school during the Second World War to be a nurse at age 16. They were not able to complete their educations. I feel very fortunate to have been able to complete mine and, above all, to have a job I love.”

—Carrie Sherman, University Publications

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University of New Hampshire at Manchester, Susanne F. Paterson

Susanne F. Paterson with student Sarah Huot and her baby, Olivia, at University of New Hampshire at Manchester

Susanne F. Paterson, instructor of English, University of New Hampshire at Manchester, with student Sarah Huot and her baby, Olivia, University of New Hampshire at Manchester, Manchester, N.H.


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