By: Ben Theriault, Staff Writer
At USM, many students are fortunate to often have access to small classroom environments. This creates an excellent opportunity for the student body and faculty to establish deeper connections than many universities. A strong student-professor relationship can drastically change one’s college experience.
A wonderful example of a professor that embodies this invaluable trait is Margaret Reimer, a woman who inserts an unmistakable zest into all of her courses. She received a Masters degree in English from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and her PHD in 16th-Century Literature. She has utilized these degrees to lead a 27 year career in education, teaching in places such as at UAA, Alaska Pacific University, Purdue University and Michigan State. Reimer joined the USM Faculty in 2011, where she teaches English and honors courses such as Masterpieces of World Literature I and The Socio-Cultural Analysis of Poverty, among others.
Although her teaching career has been successful, she did not initially start on this path. Reimer received a nursing degree from Washington State and worked as a nurse for 12 years prior to pursuing her PHD in Literature. She first worked as a geriatric nurse and later moved on to a nurse at a family practice clinic. As a nurse, Reimer mentioned that she was always drawn to the teaching components of her job. She enjoyed training nurses and educating families, but did not feel compelled to continue her studies in this field, thus she decided to delve into teaching.
Her courses are taught in a discussion-based way, in a casual and welcoming atmosphere. This can immediately be observed, simply through her decision to sit alongside her students in class. She often leads with a particular topic and allows it to build wherever the students wish to take it, which keeps students engaged and creates an opportunity for students to discuss what matters to them. Schedules are frequently flexible depending on where the class brings conversations.
An integral aspect of this style is her wish to include current events as an integral part of nearly all class activity, regardless of the course. Whether she’s talking about Greek Mythology, poverty or even bibliography structure, Reimer will find a way to prove to students that the information being taught is relevant, with real world applications. She employs this style through an incorporation of personal anecdotes, subject mastery and social consciousness.
Reimer comes to all of her course with an open mind. This is shown through her HON 100 course two semesters ago. In this course she adapted an experimental way of grading. In this arrangement she had students choose whether they wanted to receive an A, B or C for the semester—the various values had different amounts of work.
In order to receive the established grade, students had to produce work that surpassed the standard they had agreed to (if a student wants to receive an A they need to complete a larger amount of work more competently than a student who wants to receive a C; students can turn in assignments as many times as it takes for them to meet the necessary criteria). Reimer observed that many students focus more on attaining a grade rather than learning. By guaranteeing a certain grade, given that a certain quality is maintained, this system eliminates some of the pressures of a traditional grading system. This system was one of many ways Reimer sought to ensure success for all of her students.
Reimer stated that her main source of motivation stems from interactions with students. She loves the process of watching students “experiment with trying to articulate their insights.” While acknowledging that after 27 years the material is repetitive to her, she does not find teaching to be monotonous; every class reacts to the same material differently. She hypothesizes this is for a couple reasons: 1) The political and social climate outside of the classroom is always changing, and 2) Every classroom has a different dynamic regarding how the students mesh together.
One of Reimer’s personal inspirations is a Maine poet named Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was the focal point of her Master’s thesis. Reading her work was an important breakthrough in Reimer’s personal understanding of poetry and elaborate texts. Reimer admires her accomplishments—Milay was one of the first female Pulitzer Prize Award winners and a best-selling poet—as well as her personal attitude towards nature, relationships and social justice. Some of Millay’s personality is manifested through Reimer; she said she believes this is seen in her natural tendency to deviate between “serious topics and flippancy.”
Reimer lives in a forested area in Bridgton, Maine, where she enjoys raising her 24 hens and rooster, Mr. Bingley. This location allows her to care for stray cats and garden. Reimer spoke about her connection to Maine, saying that her family has been in the area for over 200 years despite moving around her whole life, she was drawn back. In Bridgeton, she is the President of the Historical Society and for the last two years has given historical tours of her town.
Reimer emanates passion for knowledge and education every day in the classroom. As an educator, Reimer is down to Earth and ready to interact not only as a teacher, but as a peer. The respect and understanding she gives her students is obvious and is perhaps the most important thing an educator can provide. Reimer’s devotion to education never ceases to impress. Reimer is an irreplaceable part of the community who should feel just as valued as she makes her students feel.