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Secret lives of professors: Mary Crane

Published: Monday, February 7, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 17:01

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Photo Courteny of Mary Crane

Mary Crane, the English Department Chair, sits in her office surrounded by books.

There are certain things you don't expect from an English professor.

You don't expect to find a rubber chicken as decoration in her office, or deliveries of live crickets to the department.

But with Professor Mary Crane, you get the unexpected. She brings a lot of color to the English department and to her classroom because she is so original in so much of what she does.

Crane is currently serving as chairperson for the English department and teaches a course on Shakespeare's Later Plays. She came to the Boston area as a freshman at Harvard University. She made the difficult trek to the East Coast from her hometown in rural Virginia to attend a school that she had never even seen before.

"I had never seen a subway or an airplane or a bagel before," she says, acknowledging that there was a bit of a culture shock that came with her relocation to Boston.

The adjustment to college included becoming accustomed to the spunky life of Cambridge, which was a drastic contrast to where she was raised. But despite the culture shock of coming to Boston, Crane "knew in five minutes" that she wanted to stay.

She has remained in the Boston area ever since. She completed her graduate degree at Harvard as well, and she has been teaching at Boston College for the last 19 years, immediately following graduating.

Crane had wanted to be a college professor ever since high school, and she admits that she never thought about doing anything else or pursuing a different career.

She teaches courses in Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, as well as the English department's course that is required for all majors, Studies in Poetry.

Since becoming the Department Chair, however, she has been limited to teaching only one class per semester. "Someone had to do it," she says of her new position. "I guess it's my turn."

When her term as chair is up, Crane will be happy to go back to teaching full time. She prefers the life of the classroom because she has the opportunity "to talk about Shakespeare all day with my students."

Crane enjoys teaching college students, saying that they are "so much easier than high school kids."

Teaching undergraduates can also be difficult, however, especially since they tend to be "smart, so you have to challenge them."

"Sometimes, you think it will take an hour to arrive at a certain point, but then someone in class gets there in the first five minutes - so then it's like, what now?"

Crane went to Oxford, which was very challenging for her because it was especially difficult to get to know some of the more "reserved" students that were at Oxford as well.

There was no central heat - rooms were warmed by a coin-operated gas fire (which, for obvious safety reasons, could not be left burning at night). The chilly bathrooms were heated by a giant light bulb.

"I'm glad I did it in retrospect," Crane says, as she believes most students should try to go abroad.

Her outside projects are restricted to the demands of her new position, but she is still finding time to edit a volume of book reviews discussing every book concerning Renaissance literature that came out the previous year - which, she admits, is a lot of reading.

Crane also has some interests that seem more suited towards her academic inclination.

She reads a lot, congruent with her profession, and still practices the piano, which she has played her entire life.

"I take lessons from a mean piano teacher, who yells at me and makes me practice," she laughs.

She also has two sons, ages 13 and 17, and admits to spending a lot of time "chauffering them around."

However, even English professors have their spurts of rebellion (beyond secretly reading Harry Potter). Crane confesses that she was kicked off the marching band in high school for drinking en route to a parade.

She also admits that her teenage sons were more amused by her participation in the marching band than her underage drinking.

And those crickets? They're food for her pet lizard.

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