A Tribute to Elise Mott, 20 Years at Fenn
*Each year, the faculty gathers to honor those who have served for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30+ years at Fenn. Here is one exerpt from that evening written and delivered by Lorraine Ward.
It’s not hard to recall all the good things about Elise Mott as a colleague, friend, educator, mother, and citizen. If I had to describe her in two words, they would be “gracious goodness.” Elise does everything with a commitment to the good—the good of her students, the good of the larger world outside of Fenn, the good of the natural world, the good of her family and her friends.
Dave Duane and I agreed yesterday when we were talking about her that she truly is dedicated to getting it better all the time, especially her teaching. In all the time I have known her at Fenn—first as my son Matt’s seventh grade social studies teacher, then as department heads when we oversaw the English and Social Studies Departments and shared responsibility for the Integrated Studies program, and now as Matt’s teaching partner in eighth grade, I can honestly say there is hardly a colleague I know more open to finding out what can be done better and what can be learned from the current pedagogical research and trends in learning and teaching and, more importantly, from her own colleagues. She takes professional development seriously. More importantly, she takes seriously collegial relationships, never presuming superiority of knowledge and experience even when she has it. Matt describes her as a true friend and colleague, working with respect and openness as they forge their curriculum and lesson plans in eighth grade social studies, even though she is a twenty-year veteran and he is new to the course.
Certainly that was and has been my experience with Elise at Fenn. I came to teaching at Fenn as Elise’s maternity leave replacement when her daughter Leila was born almost fourteen years ago. I had been a college dean and lecturer for twenty years and hadn’t taught middle schoolers since the late seventies. But Elise met me more than halfway, preparing me for what to expect with a rather ornery 7th grade group and the most adorable fifth grade group you can imagine. In an honest and open way, Elise let me know what the challenges would be, and yet she remained positive and caring about her students. I came to love both groups, but thanked Elise every day for making the transition go so smoothly.
When Elise decided that she needed to be an at-home mom with her lovely daughter Leila, I took over her teaching load. And when she came back, we became fast friends and teaching partners, and eventually closely aligned department heads. I came to admire her unfailing commitment to diversity, her love of her teaching community, her love of poetry and writing, her deeply honed spirituality, her love of native peoples’ nature-oriented religion, her zest for the outdoors and sports.
She is a founding member of the Fenn Flyers, our faculty ski team, she scaled Mount Dinali, and got almost to the summit before altitude sickness stopped her, she is an enthusiastic runner, skier, hiker, kayaker and swimmer, and she does it all with little attention drawn to herself. Last year she and Amy Salvatore and their daughters took a surfing lesson in Maine.
Like her Quaker forbear, Lucretia Mott, Elise sees the light in everyone she encounters and finds it hard to abandon any relationship she has committed herself to. Dave and I laughed --with true affection, of course--about how hard it is for Elise to give herself credit for what she accomplishes, how modest her self-regard is, how much she worries about getting it right without hurting anyone in the process. Elise, I am here to say right now, you are a really, really good and talented person in so many ways. Among your many colleagues here, there are true friends who admire your gracious goodness, have benefitted from your measured and careful manner and advice in difficult times, your steady and loyal and enthusiastic commitment to exploring all dimensions of what it means to be a good human being fully invested in the world. Your twenty years at Fenn have made us all better teachers and friends and a better community. For that we not only like you, we love and cherish you.
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