English teacher Nellie Patterson shares her passions
for literature, learning and life
By Theresa Vitt
Talon staff writer
If you asked Nelly Patterson, the new English teacher at Minnehaha, what her favorite book is, she would reply Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.
“My mother bought it for me in third grade, and I have read it every year since then,” she said. “The Cinderella theme has always captivated me. What girl doesn’t want a strapping young man to sweep her off of her feet? Without spoiling the book, I will say that the end has always appealed to me. Female heroine? About time.”
Although this is Patterson’s first year of teaching, many students say that she is one of their favorite teachers. Patterson is described as “friendly, bubbly, fun loving, interesting, knowledgeable and curious” by freshman Dominique Hlavac.
Patterson often tells stories in her classes and many students truly enjoy these brief breaks from normal class.
“My favorite story is the one about the guy who [took her to] junior prom,” said Hlavac, “She had just broken up with a really hot guy and she wanted to go with someone really cute, but it just didn’t work out. He wore his glasses instead of his contacts, she had to pay for dinner, and she had to sit in the backseat because his mom was in the car with them.”
When asked why she became a teacher, Patterson said “Well, I’m not particularly skilled in science, blood and needles make me cringe, and I straight up hate math. Therefore the fields of science, medicine, and anything involving math have always been out of the picture. I know I’m good at reading, talking, and sharing what I learn with others. Teaching has always seemed to be the perfect combination for me! So far, I’m convinced teaching is what I am supposed to be doing with my life.”
Patterson is an English teacher because she wants to have a positive and encouraging effect on her students like her English teacher did.
“Looking back on the people who had the most positive influence on me, it was my English teacher,” said Patterson. “In my senior AP English class, for the first time ever, my teacher began to assign me low grades on my papers. I was shocked. I worked extremely hard to edit my papers with my teacher, and made it a goal to learn how to write well. On my final paper for her, a 10-page poetry analysis of a poem by John Donne, she wrote, ‘Congratulations, Nelly. You are finally a writer.’ I realized the power a teacher can have in encouraging his or her students, and wanted to be that person for other people.”
Patterson’s favorite subject in school, not surprisingly, was English because she excelled at it.
“However, science was also entertaining seeing as my mother was my 9th grade science teacher. Once, on a quiz, I was the only student in her class to get a question wrong. The question was ‘What are you supposed to do if there is a fire?’ I answered ‘Leave Mrs. Patterson to put it out.’ Apparently that was the wrong answer, and my mom didn’t appreciate that I would leave her to die with the Bunsen burners.”
Everyone has someone that they look up to. Patterson’s is her Grandma. Also known as ‘Granny Oakley’ because she shoots squirrels that try to get into her house.
“She makes the most incredible Chicken Dumpling soup with vegetables from her garden, has been married for 50 years, loves life,and recently traveled to Ethiopia to help adopt my new cousin,” said Patterson.
In addition to enjoying the book Ella Enchanted, Patterson’s favorite poem is God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Many students enjoy Patterson’s classes and company. “Ms. Patterson’s classes are very fun,” said Hlavac. “I like that she is able to talk to us not just as a teacher, but also as a friend.” The others who don’t have her say that she sounds like a fun teacher.
Patterson spends some free time with her rabbit, Mercedes.
“She jumps and has spaz attacks in the air, acts like a dog, and eats bananas,” she said. “It’s the most entertaining part of my life.”
Patterson is writing a novel called The Four Seasons of Man. Each week she adds about a thousand words to her story. She is writing it because her younger brother, Jedd Patterson, struggles with a chronic gastrointestinal disease.
“He’s an awesome brother, and works so hard, but has to deal with hospital visits and surgeries more than any younger brother should have to,” said Patterson. “Not many people are aware of this disease, but more and more people are being diagnosed.” She has yet to find an author who has written a book on chronic gastrointestinal disease. “I want to raise awareness for it and the patients who deal with it,” she said.
Her novel is about patients in a hospital and their conversations about life and poetry.
“We’ll see if my procrastination gets the best of me. For now, my hope is to finish it by summer.”
Until then, she’ll have plenty of work to do in the classroom.