A life’s legacy through teaching: saying good-bye to Professor Goodman


Jesse Sutterley

Professor Dr. Goodman speaks with the Inquirer, Thursday, May 12.

Shakespearean Literature was a class I felt like I was going to regret taking as soon as I clicked the register button on WebAdvisor — when signing up for Spring 2015 classes.

I didn’t particularly enjoy reading Shakespeare, and I was also scared that a teacher might be overly critical of my opinion on the matter, but I had to take the class in order to meet my English major requirements.

Dreaded Shakespearean literature had come upon me faster than I could open my Hanukkah presents, and now I was waiting in class for my first day of another grueling 16 weeks.

Winter break had gone by and now I was sitting nervously — back at Diablo Valley College for my second semester — in Humanities room 105.

I was still an awkward freshman, so I made the point of not making eye contact with other students,  silently waiting for the teacher to come in and start the lecture.

Right on the 9:30 mark, Dr. Goodman strolled through the classroom door in a colorful fedora and a garishly colored scarf wrapped around her neck. Her demeanor and calming air settled the class into a lulled silence. Goodman walked up to the board and began writing — taking her time to write out each letter. The class sat silent, anticipating Goodman to speak.

Finally, after what felt like 30 minutes of suspense, Goodman turned a cheeky smile toward the class and said, “You’re welcome to keep talking.” The room let out a laugh and continued in a harmonized exchange of side conversations. I stayed silent, but now a little more at ease after the clearly well practiced performance of professor Goodman’s.

Fast forward to Fall of 2016: I’m sitting in Dr. Goodman’s office crying and telling her about my aunt who had just died of cancer. I’m telling her because I know that she’s the only one who will put me somewhat at ease about the situation, and be able to explain to me that life isn’t fair. I’m telling her because I know she’s shared a common illness with my aunt. I’m telling professor Goodman, because she’s also lost someone when they were too young.

Dr. Marcia Renee Goodman was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a working-class Jewish family. She grew up reading books before she could barely speak, and often found herself escaping to literature when trying to find some order in her chaotic household. Goodman’s older brother, two years her senior, was as she put it to me, “a troubled kid.”

She was a gifted student, and school came easy to her throughout her K-12 years.

Goodman went on to study at Stony Brook State University of New York for her undergraduate, where her obsession of words and human thought motivated her to consider pursuing a degree in psychology. But with her infatuation of artful language, she decided that literature would be a better compromise between her two loves.

She continued her studies at UC Berkeley where she received her Master’s and Doctorate.

During this time she fell in love with the Bay Area — but even more with Berkeley — where Goodman still resides today with her husband. While still in her Doctorate program at UC Berkeley, Goodman heard some unfortunate news about her brother.

Goodman’s brother, who was having difficulties back in Brooklyn, was killed when police surrounded him in his parents apartment. Neighbors believed that Goodman’s brother was taking her parents hostage, but contrary to what the neighbors thought, Goodman’s parents were actually staying with their friends in Queens.

Police stormed the house, and things escalated from there.

This, of course, devastated Goodman, in her final years at Berkeley, and also cast an eerie shadow on her home on the East Coast.

After school, Dr. Goodman began teaching at UC Davis, where she’d commute from Berkeley every day. Eventually, after six years, the back and forth hour long journey became too much for her, and she resigned from teaching at Davis in 1994.

A few years later, following advice from an old classmate and good friend, Maureen O’Leary, Goodman applied for a job at DVC. In the Spring semester of 1996, she began teaching English at DVC which began a 21 year career teaching at the community college.

As anyone would expect, Goodman has seen a lot of change throughout her time at DVC, but that change hasn’t come in the form of students.

Goodman says that, “Students have stayed the same, and seem to be very open about talking about their lives.” It’s this “talking about lives” that has been a huge part of the influence that Goodman has brought to the campus with her heartfelt speeches.

It’s also inspiring — she wouldn’t like me using the word inspiring, but it is — that Goodman has been battling ovarian cancer since 1999, but still puts everyone’s needs in front of her own. She deeply cares about her students, and shrugs off the persistent disease in order to keep teaching. Her mood seemingly isn’t influenced by how she feels, but instead how her students feel.

Goodman now plans to retire at the end of this spring semester. Her legacy can be seen in the students that have been lucky enough to have learned under her. Speaking for myself, hearing Goodman’s nonfiction story which she read at the teacher reading last spring semester was enough to make me feel happier to be alive — to know that an amazing person, that I had learned under, that I was lucky enough to speak to and have long discussions about life and literature with, has gone through so much, and still has an infectious smile on her face.