Shakespeare celebration to honor Carb's 50 years in the classroom


Five decades in, English Professor Nathan Carb, a self-described "frustrated actor," still loves to teach.

Even after 50 years of teaching, Nathan Carb lives for "the look," the expression on students' faces when they have an "Aha!" moment and finally comprehend a difficult passage of "Macbeth" or "Hamlet" or "King Lear."

"When I look into their faces, they seem to get it. I can see it in their eyes," says Carb, a Rowan University English professor who considers it his privilege to teach Shakespeare, "the greatest writer who ever lived," each day.

"Shakespeare's plots are best. His characters are best. Shakespeare speaks for all people for all times."

For Carb, 75, there's nothing like a classroom...and an audience. It's been that way for him since he taught his first class, in 1956.

"I was very confident my first time in the classroom," says Carb, one of only a few 50-year professors currently teaching in New Jersey state colleges and universities-and the first one ever at Rowan.

"I'm not a frustrated researcher who has to teach. I'm a frustrated actor. When I went into a class, I just wanted to gobble it up. I knew I'd be good at it. To tell you the truth, I'm not good at anything else."

Carb, who earned his bachelor's degree in English from the College of William and Mary in 1954 and his master's and doctoral degrees in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1956 and 1959, began his collegiate teaching career at West Virginia University. But WVU wasn't a good fit for the native New Yorker. Rowan, then Glassboro State College, was, he says. He taught his first class in Glassboro on Sept. 1, 1959.

"The college wanted a good, effective, popular teacher who could teach anything," says Carb, who served as English department chair for nearly 20 years-and kept the coveted, sunny Bunce Hall corner office. "Glassboro State was booming. It was growing. I just rode a wave and let it carry me."

Carb, who lives in Pitman, taught five courses his first semester at Rowan, earning, he recalls, $4,950.

"My first semester here, I had a 15-hour load. That was standard. Despite that, very early on here, I knew I had chosen the right institution for my abilities," he says.

A shooting star

Carb enjoyed a meteoric rise at Rowan, earning a full professorship in just seven years. At age 33, he was the youngest full professor in the history of New Jersey state colleges.

"I didn't deserve it. You didn't have to publish then. I had very little interest in publishing. I conceived of my career as a classroom teacher and as a part of the university community. Teaching and the students were the core of my satisfaction," says Carb, who keeps a narrative grade book, offering phrases about his students like "strong writer" or "one of the smartest in the class." That comes in handy when he writes recommendation letters for students, something he does happily-and frequently-even for students who graduated years ago.

This year, Rowan is giving back to Carb, thanking the longtime professor for his dedication to the University and the classroom. When he returned to campus last fall, a reception and banner in the English department welcomed him back and noted his 50th anniversary.

But the big celebration is April 4, when the English department pays tribute to Carb with a performance of "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)," at 2 p.m. in Tohill Theatre.

The play, produced by Little Fish Theatre Collaborative, a group of recent Rowan theatre alumni, "is a rollicking romp through Shakespearean drama that requires neither literary background nor good taste in theater," laughs English professor Cindy Vitto, a co-organizer of the celebration.

"The production is a pastiche of many plays. It's also a comedy and we're hoping to adapt it just a bit so that we can have some ‘Carb humor' included," Vitto continues. "Nathan has touched the lives of literally thousands of students in his 50 years here and-amazingly-he's still going strong. That's something that we truly want to celebrate."

Tickets are $20 for just the performance or $70 for the performance and a light dinner reception at Hollybush afterward. All proceeds will benefit the Nathan R. Carb, Jr. Fund, administered by the Rowan University Foundation. For information, email or call 856-256-5400.

Carb, who doesn't use a computer and jokes that the "greatest teachers of antiquity didn't have emails or blogs or Blackberries...or blueberries," has been stunned by the plans to celebrate his golden anniversary.

"There's a certain amount of arrogance in me. I don't think I'm a humble person, but I am humbled by all of this," he says, quietly.

The attention is well deserved, says 1962 Rowan alumna Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver, now dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University.

"He was very physical, very witty, very creative," she says. "He would move around and engage us in the learning process. He's a wonderful man and a gifted, gifted teacher. I just sat in awe of him."

"He's the quintessential college professor," adds Pat Alexy-Stoll, Class of 1979 and now a certification specialist in the Student Services Center of Rowan's College of Education. "He's a witty, enthusiastic teacher...and a real performer. I don't think he sees teaching as a job."

But speak not to Carb of retirement. There's too much Shakespeare to teach to a new generation of English majors, says Carb, who can count on his hands the number of classes he's missed in five decades of teaching.

"I know what I teach. And I teach what I know," he says. "I never use notes. I know the structure of what I'm working on. I know the lines that will get a certain reaction from students. I strive for spontaneity. Some students dig me. Others don't. And some classes build to an outrageous crescendo.

"In the classroom, if I can still make them laugh--and I can--and if they look at me with interest or complication or long as I can command their attention with the material, I'm going to keep on teaching," he continues. "I'm very happy teaching. I've loved it."