COE leaders share value of teachers, books, friends

COE Associate Dean Dr. Emily Pottinger (left) and COE Dean Dr. Meredith Critchfield pose in the room of Pottinger's son with the children’s books that have been passed down and shared between the families.

Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Ralph Freso

GCU News Bureau

Dr. Meredith Critchfield jokes that an Amazon delivery plopping on her doorstep is not an unusual occurrence, but one day it was special.

Inside the box were reminders of her passions.

Its contents took the Grand Canyon University College of Education dean back to her days in southern Indiana, teaching 10th grade English.

If you don’t love reading, she would tell her students, you haven’t found the right book. So she gave them Shakespeare and Jane Austen and Rudyard Kipling and many others. Her enthusiasm washed over them.

“I love books, I love literature, I love language,” Critchfield said.

Bailey, a student in her class, absorbed that passion and considered it a gift.

Inside the Amazon box was her return offering 10 years later to Critchfield and her newborn daughter, Ryan – some of the young children’s versions of literature that she once taught Bailey.

The young children's versions of literature that Dr. Meredith Critchfield taught her high school students.

“Romeo and Juliet,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” and “The Jungle Book” came along with a note thanking her for teaching them.

“I had made an impact on her life. I helped her love language and words and literature, and she wanted to pass that on to my daughter,” Critchfield said.

Bailey became a doctor herself – a physical therapist.

“She went on to do great things with her life. And for her to seek me out, find my sister and get my address and send these to me, knowing my love of books, was such a wonderful surprise,” Critchfield said.

She read the books to Ryan, today nearing age 5, and tells the story to COE teachers in training and professors.

“Does Bailey remember Shakespeare? Probably not,” Critchfield said. “It’s how you made them feel. That’s why they reach out. It’s how you made them feel in their life.”

Students she taught in Kenya have since become educators and tell her that she was the reason why.

Her friend and colleague, Associate Dean Dr. Emily Pottinger, has had similar experiences.

“They find me on Facebook, and I get messages from students who are graduating now and I taught them in first grade. ‘Hey, Miss Pottinger, do you remember me? You were my favorite teacher.”

Pottinger now has children, too – Elliott, 3, and Elisa, 1 – joining an informal GCU group that calls themselves “Dr. Moms,” offering one another hand-me-down clothes, cribs and highchairs. “We are each other’s Targets,” Critchfield said.

Books are special, though, monitoring life’s heartbeats as steadily as the mom advice and empathy the group shares.

“It literally can change your life when you have access to a good story,” Critchfield said.

So she handed down those special books to Pottinger, who was the first person beyond immediate family to hold her new child, and vice versa.

In Pottinger’s central Phoenix home, the books are lined up on shelves in Elliott’s room. At first he was fascinated by their art, but now as his mother reads them to him he is beginning to absorb the storyline.

With reading, Pottinger says, there is no pressure of expectations. “You just let their imagination do the work.”

Critchfield and Pottinger know the research that shows the number of books in a home correlates to later reading skills. But they also know this: “There is a beauty in books. It’s an adventure. It is an experience,” Critchfield said.

That’s why when Critchfield was a professor she lugged two suitcases of children’s books across campus to set up a “Starbooks” with coffee and even café lighting to show the teachers in training the experience in reading for children.

“A lot of learning for a lot of kids is tactile − running your fingers through the books or your hand along the spine, looking at the pictures or even acting out what is in them,” Critchfield said.

It’s why Pottinger says COE professors make efforts to get GCU students library cards so that the digital generation can see that reading a physical book, tucked away in the corner of a library, can be an adventure.

“Books are important in our profession but in all professions,” Pottinger said.

The two take their own children to the library, just as their moms did for them, sit on the floor and let the world unfold.

On their nightstands are mysteries and historical fiction (Pottinger) and coming-of-age novels to connect with the younger generation, and chick lit for empathy and entertainment (Critchfield).

Their sons and daughters are sharing that love of reading, minds running through the old stories that have connected professors and students and children through ages – whether it’s Austen’s tale of sisters or Shakespeare’s of young love – “minus the poison,” Critchfield said.

They read the books that arrived on a doorstep and affirmed the value of literature and teaching for their mothers and became a gift to pay forward.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: New library, classroom set to create ‘teacher leaders’

GCU Today: GCU students help fill need for substitute teachers

GCU Today: Critchfield named Dean of College of Education


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