Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Utah State University Professor Taught Me One Of The Greatest Lessons About Being A Teacher--It Is Time To Say "Thanks"

Some years ago I took a class on Shakespeare at Utah State University.  It was part of a self-help program I was undertaking to bolster what I felt was my somewhat deficient education. Aren't they all, really? It was a wonderful class.  The professor knew his subject well.  We were on the quarter system and we only had 10 weeks to devote to the subject so he picked 6 plays we were to discuss.  We started with Hamlet, in his mind the greatest piece of literature in the English language.  However we took so long on Hamlet that we were only able to discuss three other plays. [Someday I need to write about the experience of learning to read and understand Shakespeare, but that is for another blog.]

Today I need to say that I learned one of my greatest lessons about teaching from this rather hip professor who came to class with his shirt unbottened at the top two buttons exposing a hairy chest hosting a rather large round medallion on a thick gold necklace.  Our grade depended upon a paper, a couple of tests, and some quizzes–a couple of pop quizzes and a regular weekly quiz.

Early in the class, while we were talking about the Elizabethan world view, he announced that the quiz for the following Monday would include a question about the “seven deadly sins”–a subject he had not addressed, but which he wanted us to be familiar with for the discussions the following week.  We were to do the research on our own.  

I was the oldest person in the class and most of the students being Mormon knew that I was a teacher at the LDS Institute of Religion across the street.  Some of them had taken a class from me.  Several asked me what the seven deadly sins were.  I thought I knew and told them.  They quickly wrote down what I said.  

Tuesday when the quizzes were handed back our professor took the time to make some observations.  He pointed out that many, if not most of us had incorrectly answered the question about the seven deadly sins. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out what happened, and he may have even overheard the students asking me about it after class.  Had he been inclined, I had just handed him an opportunity to put one of those Mormon Institute teachers in their place.  He didn’t.  Instead he took the time to talk with the class about each one doing their own research and not relying on someone else.  What is more, he said we could all take the quiz again!

I was stunned, embarrassed, and grateful all at the same time.  I felt as if I had dodged a bullet, but I also gained an appreciation for a man who obviously had a lifestyle quite different from my own and who I had judged to be a bit eccentric and unnecessarily casual in his dress as a teacher.  I don’t know how he judged me, but I gave him an opportunity and he was principled enough not to publicly “put me down.”  He had obviously thought about how he was going to handle the situation and what he was going to say.  He taught the students a great lesson without making me the overt center of attention--and he really didn’t need to–everybody knew who the culprit was.  

I think I did, but I don’t remember for sure if I took the opportunity to return the favor by saying thanks. Just to be sure, here it is twenty-five years late!  Thanks for teaching me one of the greatest lessons I learned about being a teacher and a human being!

Let's think together again, soon.

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