“Personality of Professor: F.” Another writes, “Not sure where this guy came from, but watch out!”
That’s what it says on NovaTeachers.com for the man who taught the best class I’ve had at Villanova. The guy is a myth, and the reviews don’t even really surprise me. The man’s about as cuddly as high-tension wires.
At first, he didn’t look intimidating. He was about my height, middle-aged with a thick brown beard, and he wore a red-flannel shirt, glasses and fisherman’s hat. Never judge a professor by his flannel.
“I’m going to treat you the way I get treated by my editors,” he said, “and this class isn’t for people who get offended easily.”
He continued to rant for what seemed like forever, as the students fell silent with trepidation, resentment and regret. The man was downright terrifying. I went home and relayed the horror I had just experienced. But not being a quitter, I decided to stick with the course until add-drop week.
I knew I couldn’t win this guy over with my usual teacher’s pet tactics, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I attended a lecture he gave on his new book. I sat where I thought he would see me, making eye contact as if I were a woman possessed. I took notes.
“Of course you don’t know,” he said matter-of-factly, “because you were too lazy to look it up.”
Add-drop week came and went, and to my surprise the class remained intact. Our professor was just as intimidating as before, if not more so, but we started to see something else. The guy loved what he did. Not only that, but he knew what he was doing.
He read a quotation from his list of rules: “There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.”
It was a short list, but there was something about the way he read them and expounded on each one. It’s two rations short of condescension this time, replaced by two of sincerity and genuine investment in the future writers sitting before him. When it came to the writing business, I could tell he wasn’t just playing a role.
So maybe he was unorthodox, abrasive even. And the course sure as hell wasn’t easy. But everyday I came out of that classroom, I was more and more sure that I wanted to write for the rest of my life.
He taught me that being a journalist sometimes means being pushy. He had me doing things real journalists did and calling people I never knew I could reach. I even interviewed the publicist from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in an article on the new term “metrosexual.”
By the end of the year I held my own. I worked hard, took in his criticisms, and improved. He didn’t even know I was a sophomore until the last class.
It’s time we think of professors as coaches for a sports team. A good coach can’t smile and say you looked great on the field even though he knows you can play 20 times better. And since when have we demanded that all professors be as sweet as our mothers? Like good cop/bad cop, I think everyone could use a balance of both. And there’s something to be said for a man who knows how to stop a teacher’s pet in her tracks.