Michael Morris often emphasized that good teachers will be students their entire lives.
This was certainly the case for Morris, who continuously looked for ways to improve his own teaching methods.
But those who knew him found his dedication needed no improvement. It was his unwavering selflessness and compassion that set him apart from his peers. His love for teaching extended beyond his life.
To many, he was simply inspirational.
Morris died Dec. 12, 2010, after a long battle with colorectal cancer, but he refused to let his illness impede his desire to make an impact.
Before joining NIU’s Department of Foreign Language and Literatures in 1996, Morris spent 10 years as a bilingual and foreign language elementary school teacher in Chicago and Iowa City.
After his arrival in DeKalb, Morris worked diligently to create opportunities for the advancement of foreign language studies.
He served on department, college and university committees, and was the faculty adviser for Phi Kappa Theta fraternity. Morris also donated his time to an after-school foreign language program at Chesebro Elementary School in DeKalb, which created opportunities for students to get hands-on experience teaching children, and he organized study abroad trips to Spain and Costa Rica.
His expertise was sought as a collaborator for the fifth edition of the McGraw-Hill Spanish textbook “Pasajes,” as well as having his work appear in numerous journals and periodicals. He also presented more than 30 papers nationally and internationally.
Friends and colleagues praise Morris for his devotion to teaching and advising. “Michael’s work was his passion,” said Lynne Meyer, an office support specialist.
“He took great pride in everything he did – working with his students, the betterment of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Northern Illinois University,” Meyer said. “He was a mentor and role model as well as a great friend and colleague. It truly breaks my heart that he is not here to receive this most deserved award in person. He is greatly missed.”
Professor Anne Birberick cherished the opportunity to work alongside Morris.
“He was always willing to step up and help when needed,” Birberick said. “He put his students first and foremost. He worked to ensure that his students had the opportunities that would not only enrich their academic experience, but also advance their professional lives.”
Prior to Morris’s passing, letters supporting his nomination already had been written by his former students.
Kerri Freidhof said her experiences with Morris left her hoping she could live up to the same standards he set as a teacher.
“Dr. Morris is encouraging yet rigorous, relatable yet professional and extremely knowledgeable yet understandable,” Freidhof said. “After the first few weeks, I left class hoping someday I could be a teacher just like him. His insight into real-world experiences and his passion for life-long learning are unmatched.”
Morris is survived by his parents and two sisters, Julie and Claudia.