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A Denney for Your Thoughts – It’s back to school, and then some

By Connie Denney

Yes, there’s excitement on that first day of school. Apprehension is in order. Sarah Wolfe remembers hand-wringing moments, although they are in the rearview mirror now.  This time was different, as she remembers telling her parents, “So, I applied to that school to get my doctorate.”

“I shift on my feet, feeling as if I have gotten into trouble as I wring my hands in nervousness, but I think they are just surprised. I’ve not said a word to anyone about this plan of mine.”  Although she was still shocked at her own daring, “I had been longing to get my Ph.D. ever since middle school.”

Yes, Sarah Wolfe has had a lot of first days of school. She’s from Erwin and earned an associate’s degree from Northeast State Community College, Blountville. It was on to East Tennessee State University (ETSU), Johnson City, for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  She chose Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), Murfreesboro, for the Ph.D. in English. With her scholarly interests in medieval literature, women’s history and medieval nuns, which she acknowledges is an unusual subject, she praises her teachers, along with those she had at ETSU.

About those nuns, Sarah says she loves learning about their lives and their cultural achievements. She singles out creating manuscripts, convent chronicles and plays. 

After the thrill of being accepted at MTSU, reality brought her face-to-face with moving away (by this time, home was the family farm in Chuckey). There were emotional and insecure moments. It meant accepting more personal responsibility. But, she’s loving the place she lives, its rich history and being close to downtown shops and farmers’ market.

Struggles caused by her own premature birth and early life help her help others. Being a “premie” and diagnosed in high school with visual perception disorder (VPD), which caused her to see people’s silhouettes and other objects, dots, various colors, among other things, brought challenges. She remembers sitting in front of the class and needing special documents.  But, she says, she never really told anyone about her “issue” until much later in high school.  She’s sharing her experience now because she wants others with VPD to know they are not alone.  She wants them to know they can overcome. Her experience helps her be more caring and understanding of the English 1010 students she is teaching. She wants to be encouraging and kind as possible because she realizes they could be dealing with things she has no idea about.

There were times with younger children she taught before the MTSU move. “Working with young children, not just the special needs children, is very different from working with English composition freshmen. I have had great experiences with both.  With the young children you have to be always on your feet and be patient, answering endless questions.  While this goes the same with the freshmen, they are different because they perceive themselves still in high school!”  She has to remind them that they are in a college course and the expectations are higher.  Still, she has found them a great group with unique viewpoints and eagerness to learn.

What’s next?  Sarah looks forward to upcoming classes, including those about nuns. “In about three semesters, I will be taking the preliminary exams and hopefully, once I pass both of them, I can work on my dissertation! I am about halfway there!”

You go, girl!