When she was in third grade, Jackie McGrath received a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods" from her teacher.
"I read it that night and brought it back the next day, but the teacher didn't believe I'd finished it and quizzed me," McGrath said. "She let me know I'd done something impressive, and I've worked hard to read more -- and more difficult -- books ever since!
"I've loved reading from an early age. My mom would read to me and take me to the library once a week. And I like studying English because reading difficult novels satisfies my need for artistic beauty and intellectual challenge at the same time."
That love of reading also extends to the use of language. She explored it as a teaching assistant and journal editor at the University of Missouri-Columbia from 1998 to 2003. After coming to College of DuPage in 2003 to teach English, she now works with students, explaining how something should look or feel and listening to others express themselves.
"So much of teaching boils down to this very process: expressing ideas out loud, in class, in conversation or through writing and then listening to students who are striving to describe and understand ideas and themselves," she said. "It's a creative and reciprocal process, and sometimes when I feel like I'm working my hardest, it's actually exhilarating and energizing for me.
"I hope students learn to make logical, sophisticated arguments in writing, because it can truly help them live a better life, understand the world and advocate for themselves against powerful people and institutions. Literacy is empowering, and literary art is powerful and exciting, and I hope students leave my classes with the same feeling."
One person who inspires McGrath is Lynn Cox, a long-distance swimmer who swam the Bering Strait in 1987 in order to open the border and international relations between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Cox then wrote about both this achievement and others in a book called "Swimming to Antarctica."
"She works hard, cares about global politics, acts to make a difference and expresses her ideas and concerns," McGrath said. "She's also a wonderful writer and endurance athlete. I will never be the swimmer she is, but if I work hard, I might become half as good of a writer!"
McGrath also extends her love of language to her sense of humor.
"I like having a new -- and captive -- audience to laugh at my corny jokes every semester," she said. "It means I don't have to learn a lot of new jokes -- I can keep recycling the old ones!"