Lessons from David Gies

By Alison Weber

I owe my career in large part to David. In 1983 my husband, who was a professor of Microbiology at the University of Illinois, was invited to spend a sabbatical year at UVA. He urged me to see if the Spanish Department needed a part-time teacher of Spanish. I said, “Don’t be ridiculous. They won’t hire a walk-on.” But to appease him, I asked for an appointment with a certain Professor Gies, and walked in to his office with my rusty PhD in Comparative Literature and rustier Spanish and offered to teach a course I had dreamed up called “Literary Analysis.” Much to my great surprise, he offered me not one course but three, for the grand salary of $11,000 a year. My career was launched! Over the next thirty-five years, David was one of my most important mentors and academic models. Here are some of the lessons I learned from him, lessons whose importance I often underestimated at the time and too often failed to put in to practice. 1) Expand your audience. If you are going to be an educator, look beyond your graduate seminar and reach out to learners of all ages and abilities 2) Step up to the plate. You are not too important to do the little jobs. 3) Learn people’s names. Ask them questions. 4) Celebrate the accomplishment of others. 5) Own up to your mistakes. 6) Don’t overthink problems. 7) Forgive and move on. 8) Be cheerful and have fun. 9) Be thankful. Teaching is a wonderful career. This is what I have perceived as David’s unspoken philosophy—a philosophy he lives every day and one that is worth imitating.