SMC English Department,
Instructor & Chair 1960-2002

Nina Theiss “A woman in the grocery store yesterday called my name. I didn’t recognize her, but she studied with me and is now working on her Master’s in Anthropology at Fullerton. That’s very satisfying.”

What is the cumulative effect of a teacher’s life? Nina Theiss, retired chair of SMC’s English department, is far too humble to claim this for herself, but it’s true: Because of her, thousands of human beings have come to grips with the English language and befriended it. Some have made it their life’s work in elegant prose and in the classroom. Some merely improved their clarity of expression in speech and in writing. Some overcame their terror of the written word, and some even learned the language that they didn’t grow up speaking. All of the thousands became better friends with the English language. And all of the thousands were friends of Nina Theiss.

“I love teaching and I have loved my students all along the way,” says Nina. “They have been very accepting of me, even as I became older. And to think how it all began…. I was teaching in Kansas City with a friend, and she came out to SMC to be a librarian. So I came out to live with her and start graduate school. But just days before school started,” she recalls, “somebody resigned from teaching English. So a few days later I took the job. And I’ve been here ever since!”

A living example of the saying, ‘Chance favors the prepared mind,’ Nina lived through years of phenomenal growth at the College. “When I retired, we had over 100 people in our department!” she says with genuine astonishment. “And I have such fond memories of our department. I was fortunate to have people who were capable and hard working. And we never quarreled with each other. I think that the teachers of SMC are cut from a different cloth than those in many other colleges. And I’ve been very fortunate to spend my life among them.”

Read more stories from present and past years in the SMC Student Spotlight Archive.