notes on good teachers
It’s the last day of the second week of the semester, and I’m remembering a funny collection of teachers this morning:
Woke up with a choral arrangement of a gospel song in my head, one on the text “In my father’s house, there are many mansions/if it were not so, I would have told you.” I learned this one from a guest conductor for Louisiana District V Honor Chorus, who had done the arrangement himself, he tried hard to teach us how to follow his style of conducting, we weren’t as live as the group of professionals he was used to. He had a way of getting us through the last lines with his hands that was like gently punching down a beach ball in water if it could stay under just for a bit, we spent ages on it, and there was something light and deep about where he got us to end up. The last part of the song had the whole text repeating over a sustained drone, where the second half of the choir did modal variations on top with deep bass in the chord, beautiful enough that you knew what you were singing was true.
The second story is about a line of Parmenides also on my mind, “the unshaken heart of well-rounded truth.” Fr. Kurt Pritzl at CUA was my teacher for the pre-socratics, a scholar’s scholar, but he also had a rather extraordinary way of seeing the metaphysical point of a good metaphor. He was extremely into truth, and he had a way of letting you also be into it too. He could be rigid as a teacher, but as a thinker he was not, and you could see this in the way he could hear beyond the silly aristotelian way of hearing the pre-socratics, into a richer understanding of what even the smallest detail might mean. He had theories about circles, which what with all my geometry from undergrad I was more than ready to be enthusiastic about. Truth was rounded because it was whole, and the way he would explain this, you would see the roundedness of truth, as he shaped a circle for you and said, “you see, …”
The last is my german professor at CUA, who was both remarkably beneficent, and told me one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. German was the fifth language I learned, and is the one I am worst at, but on the fifth go round I finally figured out the trick of one-and-for-all-for-the-semester-at-least memorizing things as the professor explained it for the first time, in real time. Dr. Hannah Marks deeply appreciated this, because it gave her a little of that kind of real-time feedback from the class, so necessary to the teacher, that I would imagine is often difficult to come by in a grammar-and-dictionary language class. At the end of the year, she offered to let me sit in on her undergrad class off the books, so that I could keep going. (I got pregnant that June and dropped out of further german in lieu of my master’s thesis and french exam.) In the same conversation she tried to help me keep going in the language, when I told her in May I was going away for a month to teach in a foreign country she said, “but how will your husband eat?”
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