I’ve had the pleasure of teaching quite a few students over the years. Hundreds, certainly. I don’t think I’m up to thousands yet, though that day will assuredly come. I’ve taught at three institutions, with students at all levels of experience: from wide-eyed freshmen to serious-minded PhD candidates to long-out-of-school retirees.
When I was a student I figured that teachers hated certain students, and I hoped I was not counted among them. Yet while I cannot speak for other teachers, I can say that I haven’t really disliked any of my students. Not that I can remember, anyway. So I really do mean it when I say teaching has been a pleasure.
Of course, I would be lying if I claimed that there aren’t students who stand out in my memory. Writing this, my mind wanders to think of…
- the young man who came to my office to work earnestly on his writing almost every day and went from an F- to an A-student in the course of a term;
- the wallflower from the back row who shocked me at the end of a term when she presented an astounding, brilliant, and original final research paper;
- the blind boy who wanted so desperately to experience the Middle Ages that I redesigned my class website with the help of a blindfold, so that the speech software could better parse it for him;
- the girl who fought repeated personal illness and family tragedy over the term, reminding me how utterly unimportant my class can be;
- the polymath who could hardly focus on any one thing, but when he did turned it to brilliant diamond;
- the girl from Hawaii, who despite the bitter cold of a Rochester winter managed to find a fresh flower every day and wear it in her hair;
- the young man who was so casually brilliant but maturely grounded that I hope to see his name in political circles one day;
- the elegant and accomplished female trombonist who, to my continuing astonishment, was a huge Tolkien fan in addition to being a talented young musician;
and so many more. Names, places, faces … memories of a student wearing a Viking helmet, memories of another sitting and laughing in my office, memories of another met in a restaurant, or still another talking about her family in Lebanon during the conflicts there … it’s hard to keep them down once they start churning.
I think of all this now because that Tolkien-loving trombonist, Liza Malamut, dropped me a line a few days ago. Trolling the ‘net after watching Bagby’s Beowulf (oh how the heart races!), she looked me up and found this website.
I’m always thrilled to hear from former students — where they are, what they’re up to, what odd medieval connections they’ve noted in the world — and this was certainly no exception. Liza’s doing great work and seems generally happy in the world, for which I’m very glad. She also notes in passing that she may audition for the Charleston Symphony, who would be foolish not to snap her up at once.
I should note how hearing from her did make me realize what an utterly ignorant man I remain, though. Liza writes:
I’ve actually played Renaissance and Early Baroque music (and some medieval slide trumpet, though this is more recent) for several years now. It’s among my favorite genres, and contains collections of incredible music for brass that is still being discovered today. The quality, as well as the virtuosity, of the music (think Castello, Weckmann, Lassus, Hammerschmidt, etc.) is really astounding.
She means well, I know. By kindly listing some representative composers she intends to help my poor little mind understand the kind of music she’s working with. Only … I don’t know any of these names. Even trying to “talk down” to me, Liza’s mind soars above mine!
On the plus side, the whole thing sounds marvelously wonderful, and it does serve to emphasize one of the great benefits of teaching: I get to meet interesting people in the prime of their lives who teach me far more than I teach them. I mean, if it wasn’t for Liza I wouldn’t be listening to the mid-Baroque sounds of Andreas Hammerschmidt while I grade papers this afternoon.