Linda DeRoche has always been seen as the teacher.
Even as early as 12, she dressed in her mother’s high-heels and dresses and played school to as many as 30 neighborhood children.
Confident, she knew one day she would have a classroom of her own.
Nearly 50 years later, the challenge of teaching still drives her.
“She is very passionate,” said senior Kenneth McDonald. “She influences me by the way she makes me think outside the box when discussing a piece of work. It’s kind of like solving a small mystery or something.”
A tenured professor, she also has published six books, as well as essays and articles in magazines.
Her college and traveling experiences, as well as the life she lived with her first husband helped shape DeRoche.
A former professor struck a nerve with DeRoche after the teacher said to DeRoche that she could not reach some students.
All of her fellow students were bright and capable of learning but uninterested in school because they were caught up in the social changes occurring in the country during the late 1960s, including sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. It seemed wrong to DeRoche that her professor was saying that teachers should write them off.
She described her professor as, “out of touch with the classroom, with what was really happening in the country and its effect on teens.”
DeRoche’s younger sister, Nancy, was part of that group.
She had run away from home one summer, smoking pot, and overdosed on downers at school. She spent six weeks in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. She wanted to live, be free, and not have to follow parental and societal restrictions, and she did just that.
But to DeRoche, she was worth more than just being written off.
DeRoche said she always believed that teachers needed to find ways to make learning meaningful to new generations, not just give up on them.
She said she values every perspective that her students bring to the classroom and learns from all of them.
“I firmly believe that everyone can learn, and that nobody should be written off,” she said.
DeRoche has taught many classes at Wesley College during her 24 years here. She plans to continue teaching until she reaches full-retirement benefits in about 10 years.
“I sometimes think about retiring early, especially when I have stacks of student essays to be evaluated,” she said. “In fact, if I did not have to evaluate, I could probably teach forever because I so love talking about literature with students. But I also think that I have several more books in me, and retirement will give me the opportunity to pursue my interest.”
DeRoche said she loves teaching survey classes the most.
Getting 20 to 30 undecided students involved enough to explore their own interests drives her, she said.
That, and reflecting on the unexpected turn of events in her life during and after college.
After her first visit to Europe as a junior in college, she said she was transformed.
DeRoche felt especially at home in London. People traveling on the Underground read books. She could pursue her own interests in the arts and culture without feeling as if she were strange.
“My plan had been to go to college, get a degree, take some time to get my life together, and then settle down,” she said.
However, life took her in a different direction. DeRoche married her college sweetheart, John Pelzer, just two years after their graduation.
As a couple, they never thought of themselves as a role model for an ideal relationship. According to their colleagues that was exactly what they represented.
“What we had was special,” DeRoche said. “He put up with my silly s**t and I put up with his.”
DeRoche’s soft voice may distract a visitor from the chaos of her office.
She is completely surrounded by bookcases stocked with books ranging from novels to poetry. Her collections also consist of books she herself has written and history magazines that she and her late husband contributed to. More books pile high on the floor, along with a desk cluttered with paper.
DeRoche’s disorderly office resembles thoughts of her marriage to John.
Not in the sense that it was a messy relationship, but because of the unexpected death of her husband in 1997. She found herself disorganized, lost and overwhelmed.
His death occurred in the middle of an orderly routine.
“It was his morning ritual to wake up, put a pot of coffee on, sit in his favorite chair and watch the Today Show,” she said. “It was getting late, he had to be in work so I tapped him, and I got no response.”
DeRoche’s eyes lock on the desk in front of her, as if she were embracing a specific memory, recalling what she felt, what she saw, and the smell of something familiar. She then muttered a simple sentence.
“One moment I had a future and in the blink of an eye I had a past.”