Retiring Professor Reflects on Life and Teaching Career by Haley Kouba

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Shelley Ellis, who proudly calls herself a “sneaky book person,” is retiring from the education department at Rocky Mountain College, after a 42-year-long teaching career. Dr. Ellis’ lifelong interest in reading drew her to her teaching career. She took the time to explain how her love of reading led to her becoming an education professor at Rocky, where she continued to share books, and her love of reading, with students.

Her dad, Charles Hartung, came from a poor family of eight kids, and he left home when he was 16 to get away from his dad. His family wanted kids only for work. She explained that he made friends quickly and had a good sense of humor. She thought that he was the funniest person alive until the last week of his life.

“He was a hard worker and he was extremely generous and funny,” Dr. Ellis said, “and I don’t know, everyone liked him on sight.”
Dr. Ellis thought back to a couple of weeks before he died. She was over with her dog, Juliet, who likes to roll over on her back with all of her legs sprawled out. Her dad looked at Juliet and said, “That dog needs pants.” She explained that he would always say gentle, funny things like that.

He also owned a business that he built himself despite only completing school through eighth-grade. His business was called Hartung Motor Exchange. It’s their old family name. He was a machinist. He wasn’t a mechanic. Dr. Ellis was adamant that there’s a difference. He was self-taught and very skilled. She ended by saying, “My dad was my best friend.”

Dr. Ellis’ mother, Helen Hartung, wanted to be a teacher, and she had started studying at Eastern Montana College, now known as Montana State University Billings. The experience wasn’t what she was looking for, and she ended up returning to Hardin to become a waitress. This is where she met Charles Hartung. Dr. Ellis explained that they fell in love right away, and got married after three dates.

“I got a lot of my sharpness, my sharp wit, and my love of reading from my mom,” Ellis said. She expanded by stating that her mother loved to read anything and everything. After speaking about her parents, Dr. Ellis went on to discuss teachers who influenced her. One of her high school English teachers, Joan O’Rourke, fueled her interest in books and poetry, while Michael Kreisberg, one of her college English professors, inspired her with his sense of humor. Dr. Ellis said, “I always thought if I became a teacher, I would try to have a good sense of humor.”

Dr. Ellis had wanted to become an English teacher because of her love for reading. She ended up teaching high school English for 23 years.
“When I first started teaching high school,” Dr. Ellis started, “I thought all my students would love the books I loved, and it was a big surprise when they didn’t, but it didn’t stop me. The more I loved it, the more it was easier for them to try to like it.”

Dr. Ellis loved teaching high school students, but she was excited when she got the opportunity to teach college students in California. She enjoyed being able to teach more of the literature she enjoyed to higher-level students. Dr. Ellis’ favorite book that she ever taught was “Ethan Frome” written by Edith Wharton. She explained that it was a weird book to teach unless it was taught correctly.

Eventually, Dr. Ellis was given the opportunity to teach at Rocky Mountain College. She said, “When I came to Rocky, I got the chance to teach education classes, so I was teaching kids to go out and teach as I had taught for 18 years. I was a teaching educator.”

Dr. Ellis loved teaching at Rocky, even if she wasn’t an English professor. She explained that she taught all subject areas in her classes, but she had a special affinity for the ones that were going to be English teachers. They talked about the books they loved, and how hard it would be for them to be English teachers. She said, “When you’re a high school English teacher, you have an armful of papers to grade almost every day, and if you’re going to do that, you better love that job because if you don’t it’s going to be a misery for you.”

“I absolutely loved my job,” Ellis said. “I taught for 42 years, and there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t happy to teach.” She also used to sneak books into her education courses. She said, “I would be a sneaky book person.”

Even though she’s in the process of retiring, Dr. Ellis still loves teaching, though she expressed that she felt it was the right time for her to retire. She’s completely fine with retiring, and she doesn’t think that she’ll teach again. She stated, “I’m going to Scotland, man.”

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