Sunday, August 22, 2004


Many years ago, I worked as the T.A. for a relatively small (100 students) introductory 100 level class. Most of the students were typical 18-23 year olds, but there were a few exceptions. Two of them were women in their forties, and although they were strangers when the class began, I noticed that they started sitting together almost immidiately.

I graded the first set of exams "blind," meaning that I didn't know the names of any of the 100 students, at least to connect with a face. By sheer providence I wrote "please see me if I can be of any help" on the exams of both of these women. Both had done an acceptable job, but clearly could do far better with a little one on one assistance.

Later I learned that each had wanted to drop by my office hours before the first exam, but felt a bit shy; together, they felt brave enough to come. I reassured the ladies that, "if I'm not nice to you, my mother will kill me," and we all laughed. Ice broken, I walked them through their mistakes, and got them to laugh a bit, too. They came back together a few more times over the semester, and even tried to buy me coffee before the final exam review session. (Conflict of interest: I had to say no.) Both improved their work, and took delight in being able to help their teenaged children study. Both sent me wonderful e-mails at the start of the next semester, thanking me for my help and full of enthusiasm at having succeeded in their first semester of college. "Tell your Mom to let you live," said "Betty."

I ran into Betty several years later, and learned that she had completed her General Studies degree, which thrilled Betty's mother and inspired her daughter. "I'm the first person ever in my family to graduate from college! So what if I'm 50?! I did it!" We chatted briefly about inspiration, role models and what she remembered from the class, and left the ladies' room.

This afternoon, I read Betty's obituary. It gave no details, so I can only assume that she suffered a heart attack, or some other cause that wasn't newsworthy in a small town. It did mention her diploma.

R.I.P. Teaching can give immortality, but so does being an exceptional student.

Words Written: zero
Lessons Graded: twelve

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Since your blog is relatively new, Lemming, I have the temerity to "tell" you what to write about.

Who are your teaching inspirations?