By Luis Gonzalez
Dr. Larry Shillock is a Professor of English here at Wilson College. Known for his sense of humor and willingness to help students, he ensures a positive and productive learning environment for both English majors and non-majors.
A member of Wilson’s faculty for over two decades, he recollects that his passion for English, literature and critical thinking first began when he was young, informing that he was a “bookish (i.e., odd) child” growing up.
As he described, living with six family members meant that his household was often raucous, so he sought quiet in libraries and classrooms.
Librarians soon introduced him to books and literature, where he “would read across an entire wall of library shelves.” While teachers noted his passion and treated him “less like a student and somewhat more like a peer, especially by the time I was in high school.”
He recounts that, similar to how H. G. Wells made the time machine famous, books were the magical space of his imagination until, over time, he “simply became that youth who falls asleep with a flashlight in one hand and a book, disguised beneath the covers, in the other.”
He earned his B. A., M. A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and when asked about his experiences in said University, he declared, “Unlike many of my high school peers, I hesitated when it came time to go to college, since I had little money saved and no economic support forthcoming from family.”
He became a “childcare worker at an institution just outside of Chicago; a technical writer for the City of Minneapolis Planning Department; a part-time journalist—and, later, the sports editor of two suburban weeklies; and, finally, a contractor in my own repair and building business.”
Yet, although rewarding, he notifies that these self-taught positions, “did not quiet my mind or satisfy my curiosity, and so I returned to the University of Minnesota, where I completed a nontraditional degree in the University Without Walls (UWW) program (don’t ask) and applied to graduate school.”
Likewise, he recalls that being a graduate student in the late ’80s was “tumultuous in the best sense of the word” because “a revolution in critical inquiry, originating in Europe, was sweeping the U.S., and the University of Minnesota, home to the renowned Theory and History of Literature series, was one of its crucial supports.”
While studying, he supplemented his courses in English with others in anthropology, comparative literature, and education. But as he enlightens, “for a student interested in aesthetics, fine art, history, literature, and methodologies of many kinds—including feminism, formalism, historicism, psychoanalysis, and reception theory—it was a heady time indeed.”
Now at Wilson, he informs that his work continues his “deep immersion in the ways that texts of all kinds constitute meanings and audiences.”
Speaking of Wilson, his story of becoming a professor here is truly an inspiring one.
Dr. Lisa Woolley, a Professor of English here at Wilson and Dr. Shillock’s life partner and wife, was hired by the college in August 1993.
She moved to Chambersburg on short notice, leaving Dr. Shillock in Saint Paul, MN, where he “finished construction projects on our home and worked on my dissertation.”
That January, “during a storm that posted daily wind chills of 70 degrees below zero, we packed a moving van and drove with the blowing snow through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and one-half of Pennsylvania.”
They arrived at their new townhouse in Saint Thomas but soon encountered frozen pipes and a heat pump that could not vanquish the cold.
While Dr. Woolley taught and advised students, Dr. Shillock “set up the household and wrote.”
Then, Dr. Godfrey Gattiker, the chairman of the English Department at Wilson College, hired him to teach a “Shakespeare course in the first summer session.”
He also worked full-time as an adjunct for two years, teaching various writing courses.
When Dr. Gattiker announced his retirement, Wilson began a national search for a replacement, and here he was hired. He writes, “The college hired me, a choice it did not have to make—given a rich applicant pool—and we have been together ever since.”
He states that teaching college is a privilege. “To share a classroom with students working to better themselves is personally and professionally resonant. Doing so is especially fulfilling when classes center on great works of art, literature, and politics. Teasing out the ideas that inform singular works is more than an academic exercise; it is training for the decisional demands of daily life.”
When asked about a favorite class, he retorts, “Teaching at Wilson is too rich of an experience to reduce to a favorite class!”
However, he claims that the most difficult course that he teaches is English 108 College Writing because “Interacting with first-year students, contributing to their personally trying transitions to college, keeps me awake at night.”
Still, watching students “progress from being high school graduates to college writers is, in the best of cases, an unequalled pleasure.”
He is also especially fond of two sets of courses. The first set is comprised of English 215 and 216 as they focus on major writings in the European tradition, while the second set is made up of English 230 and 335/535 Film Analysis and History, which focuses on how individual shots in a film are composed and therefore what the elements in them mean.
When asked how he is handling teaching during the pandemic, he writes, “It is easier to teach than to be a student during the pandemic. My goal is the same no matter the circumstance: to create an environment that changes how students think about our shared subject matter.”
He continues, “Teaching via Zoom or wearing a mask and a face shield compromises the experience of teaching and learning for everyone; in moments of weakness, I admit to counting the days until I can rip the mask and shield from my face and end their working lives in a smoldering funeral pyre. (Like something out of the Harry Potter films, perhaps?)” he writes comically.
As for tips for students to do well in their online courses, he says that the only enduring advice he can give about online coursework is to “trust the best ideas that scholars have about teaching and learning.”
Moreover, he says that for their parts, students should study how to learn, and then apply those behavioral insights to their daily schedules and coursework.
Finally, he declares that his favorite resource on these subjects is “The Wilson Writing Academy, which is available on Canvas. Students might think of it as a sometimes awkward, sometimes funny archive of insights and ideas.”
All in all, Dr. Shillock is a great professor and one of the first ones students meet when they arrive at Wilson. Even if getting a paper back from him seems intimidating, especially if it has a lot of blue, he is a professor dedicated to his students and is always willing to help.