Longtime Professor Reflects on Career, in Midst of Cancer Battle

Category:  News
Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 at 8:10 PM
Longtime Professor Reflects on Career, in Midst of Cancer Battle by Macala Leigey
Dr. Joseph Laythe spoke Tuesday evening where he gave tips about teaching.

"My journey is coming to an end, and I’m blessed. I’ve been blessed to live the life I love. I’ve had the most remarkable life. I cannot complain about a single thing,” History, Anthropology, and World Languages Professor, Dr. Joseph Laythe said at the first installment of the Center for Faculty Excellence series of presentations on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

In 2013, Laythe was diagnosed with a rare soft tissue sarcoma in his leg, which originated from a pea-size bump located near his femur. Doctors found the bump to be cancerous, and as a result, had to remove Laythe’s femur, replacing it with a metal rod. The cancerous tumors continued to spread to Laythe’s lungs, growing rapidly.

Later that year, Laythe underwent six months of chemotherapy and another surgical process to remove more tumors. However, the tumors continued to spread, with chemo and radiation treatments no longer serving as successful treatment options.

Nearly three years later, Laythe continues to be an active member of the Edinboro community. From receiving the Martin Luther King Jr. Citizen Award in 2014, to publishing three books in 2016, Laythe has continually proven that a disease does not have to limit one’s success.

During his presentation, Laythe reflected on his 20 years of teaching at Edinboro and imparted career and life advice to colleagues, students, and community members, breaking his tips down into six separate key points.

Know Your Audience

Laythe stressed the importance of knowing your audience, and, for professors especially, taking the time to know their students by name. “I tried to take it to a new level,” Laythe said, referring to his atypical way of memorizing his students’ names.

Laythe is known for his memorization method where he requires students to write their name, hometown and major on a piece of paper and then personally deliver it to him; which is then followed by him reciting each student’s name in front of the class.

“It [knowing students names] gives them [students] an identity. It tells them we care, that they matter. That they’re real people who deserve the respect of their faculty,” Laythe said.

Laythe also expressed his philosophy that the student is never the problem, but rather the problem originates from miscommunication or his teaching methods.

“I’m the problem until it is solved. I’ve always believed that there is no such thing as a bad student.”

Life is a Lesson

The second tip Laythe suggested was simply that “life is a lesson,” and “there’s not a single thing you can’t learn from.”

While Laythe provides his students with numerous opportunities in the classroom to learn and succeed, he also understands that life outside the classroom is where students are truly educated.

“I understand that when you’re in my classroom you have lives beyond the four walls of that classroom. And when students come up to me and say, ‘I got this going on..’ I say ‘that’s alright. I trust you.’ Learn something from that process. Make yourself better along the way, and turn it into something good.”


Along with encouraging students to embrace the various lessons life has to offer, Laythe requires empathy to be evident in his classroom and his life.

“When it’s all said and done, everything’s going to be radically different; the one thing that won’t be different is how we relate to one another,” Laythe said.

Laythe expressed that he wants his students to understand empathy and apply it to their lives, but more importantly realize the significance of “being authentic,” and “letting people know who you really are.”


“I absolutely believe in being organized. I have to be organized,” said Laythe.

On a lighter note, Laythe discussed the importance and advantages of being consistently organized. He has a daily to-do list, outline, and a filing cabinet full of notecards in order to keep his life in order and to “allow for spontaneity.”

“Ultimately, if you’re not organized, you can’t be spontaneous. If you are just spontaneous all the time, all that is last minute planning and you have no idea where you’re going to go,” Laythe said.


The fifth key point Dr. Laythe addressed during his presentation was empowerment, saying that students deserve to know they are capable of making a difference in the community, in their profession, and in the lives of others.

“I want my students to know and feel they are powerful. When we empower our students it means that they take a more active role in their education.”

Laythe personally challenges his students to demonstrate their empowerment by requiring them to complete a community project and to participate in university competitions during his course. These community endeavors include project R.A.K.E and the Martin Luther King Expressions of Remembrance Art Contest.

“I try to give empowerment to my students to be mentors, and to raise their own expectations of themselves,” Laythe said.

Have Fun

Laythe completed his presentation by encouraging the students, professors, and community members present to have fun in whatever they pursue in life.

“If you do what you love, you’ll do it well, and if you do it well you’ll be compensated for it.”

Laythe also reflected on the memorable times in his classroom and his methods for making the classroom environment fun.

“Learning doesn’t have to be painful. Learning can be fun; it can be enjoyable,” Laythe said.

Laythe hopes his six key points aids professors and students, not only in the classroom, but also in life, and serve as guidelines in their daily successes. Although primarily designed to provide audience members with advice for navigating the classroom and campus, the “Reflections” presentation also served as a farewell speech for Laythe.

He is currently taking the spring 2016 semester off for a medical sabbatical, but he will not likely be able to return to the classroom.

“Right now my goal is to make it to May 1st, that’s my daughter’s college graduation. The nurses and staff think that’s probably unlikely as well. It is what it is. It’s all good, that’s my slogan,” Lathye said.

For students who have had the privilege of having Laythe, many concur that Laythe has had a positive and substantial impact on their academic and personal endeavors.

“He’s the most inspiring person I’ve ever met. He really makes everyone feel important and valued,” previous History of the U.S. and American West course student, Elizabeth Clark said.

Previous student of Laythe’s, Maggie Bond, added to Clark’s statement, “I never had a teacher like him before where he was always nice to the students, always listening in to their opinions. He was more like a friend in a way, and I’ve never had a professor who was like a friend.”

In addition to Bond and Clark’s statements about Lathye’s optimistic personality, human performance major, Tommy Scales commented on Lathye’s teaching style, “Laythe’s class was very interesting. He made history come alive. He made you relate it to your life.”

Laythe made his ability to make history come to life apparent during the presentation, by expressing that history is a human experience and aids us in defining who we are and where we come from.

“When you took your child and held their hand to the school bus for the first day of school. That’s history. It’s when you’re celebrating a Steelers win, clanking your beer glasses with your friends. That’s part of the historical human experience. When you hold a loved one and you can feel their breathing on your own chest. That’s history. It’s the human experience.”

Macala Leigey is the News Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

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