Mike Crabtree, new English instructor, brings YA Lit appreciation to campus

Maryville College welcomed Mike Crabtree, new adjunct instructor of English, to the campus community in the fall of 2022. 

Crabtree says he has always been excited about learning, but he didn’t always think he would become a teacher. As a self-proclaimed nerd who grew up on a farm in Middle Tennessee, one can imagine that he was a bit different from his peers. He was an avid reader, and he loved to share what he learned with other people.

However, he didn’t know he wanted to teach professionally until early adulthood. He worked as an EMT while taking time off from college, and he had the opportunity to spend time doing classroom visits and Red Cross training events for schools. He loved his time with the students, but he also said he met many disinterested, disrespectful teachers. 

Frustrated by what he saw from these teachers, he thought, “I could do a better job,” and thus began his own call to teaching. When he went back to school as a first generation college student, he changed his major to Education and never looked back.

After graduating, he worked as an educator in the Blount County Schools system for over 30 years. He has worked with gifted and talented students, special education classes and, most recently, with other teachers as a curriculum instructor.

Crabtree says he learned a lot in all his years of teaching and working with people of all ages. Whether he’s teaching a group of kindergarteners or presenting to a group of teachers, his personal teaching philosophy is to make his lessons as relevant and engaging as possible.

Public school often crushes the curious spirit of young students, but Crabtree is interested in curating a lifelong desire to learn. “It’s sharing life and bringing soul to stuff that for too many people is soulless,” Crabtree said. “Almost every single kid comes in excited about learning. How can we keep that?”

Now retired from Blount County Schools, he has joined MC’s English department. One of his roles on campus this year has been developing the college’s debut Young Adult Literature class.

Crabtree believes a class like this bridges an important gap by encouraging students to study the literary merit of books that most people read solely for fun. While a typical college literature class assigns Shakespeare or Charles Dickens, the Young Adult Literature class studies authors like John Green, whose work is popular among recreational readers.

So far, students in this class have read YA books including “The Outsiders” and “The Fault in Our Stars”—books that many current college students read in their middle or high school years—and have spent time analyzing why stories like these are so influential for young readers. 

These books are often not taken seriously; they tend to be seen as inferior literature due to their simplistic nature and the teenage problems that fill their pages. While it’s true that these books probably won’t end up in the classic literature hall of fame, Crabtree believes that is precisely what makes the YA genre so important. 

When asked about why it’s necessary to treat these books with respect, Crabtree said, “There’s power in that literature being able to reach segments of kids who wouldn’t call themselves readers, who wouldn’t say that they’re nerds, who wouldn’t say that they’re the best students. Reading is not exclusive to the smartest kids in school, or people with college degrees.”

Though literature classes tend to be most heavily saturated with English majors, Crabtree thinks that anyone can benefit from a class like ENG211. It is an elective class open to students from all disciplines. Students who are interested in experiencing Mr. Crabtree’s refreshing attitude towards teaching for themselves will have the opportunity to register for next year’s classes starting March 27.

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