The course was to be taught by a certain Dr. Cohen who had a considerable reputation both as a Calculus and Physics professor. Upon entering the classroom, I got my first look at my new classmates. There was an assortment of students around the room who looked similar to me – early twenties, Eastpak book bag, a Calculus book on their desk and a look of dismay on their face about the elective course that they had chosen.
There was also an unshaven, long-haired guy sitting on a desk top in the back with a strange smile on his face. I sat down in front near a couple of students who were chatting about the professor: “He’s supposed to be really smart” said one, “Yeah, I heard he graduated from M.I.T.” echoed another. Minutes passed as we continued to wait for Dr. Cohen to arrive – “It’s hard to believe he’d be late for the first class!” I said.
Just then, someone laughed a little too loudly in the back of the room. Everyone including me immediately looked back to see who it was but just as quickly looked away when we realized that it was the strange long-haired student perched on the top of a desk. One of my group members whispered softly with a hand over her mouth, “That guy looks creepy to me – do you think he’s really in this class?” Well, as it turned out, he wasn’t – he was our professor, Dr. Cohen.
That semester went by quickly for all the students, especially those like me who weren’t able to balance the perils and preoccupations of college life with the tangents and limits of moving objects.
Later, when I received the inevitable low grade in the mail, I was surprised at how much it affected me. Even though I had received four “A”s in my other courses (and maybe because of it), I was livid for weeks. I have to admit that at times, I even envisioned an enormous differential equation dropping from a clear blue sky as its shadow grew larger over him!
It still makes me laugh now because, in retrospect, Dr. Cohen was the best teacher I have ever had and the model upon which I base my teaching today. No, I didn’t learn terribly much about math that term, but I did learn what it takes to be a good teacher. Dr. Cohen had passion about his subject, cared deeply about his students’ progress (even mine), and was not afraid to learn from his students. I hate to think what would have happened if I had had the chance to evaluate him at the end of the course or the effect it might have had for him if my evaluation was made available to future students at the time!
Professor Thomas E. Webster has been teaching in Korea off and on since 1994 including five years in the English Program Office (EPO) at Ewha. He has masters’ degrees in language teaching and photography and is currently writing his PhD dissertation on the use of technology in education.