2.16.2006

Belated Thanks

I was a Chemistry major when I entered college in 1987. That lasted until I got my schedule, which told me that in addition to 3 hours of class, I had 2 hours of lab - early in the morning - all the way across campus.

For the next two years, I waffled back and forth between several different choices for my major. Archaeology, Philosophy, Classical Studies, Math. There was no point in trying to figure out what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. I was 18, and at the time, a job in computers meant programming in COBOL, which was not very interesting.

It was my second semester Sophomore year when I finally settled upon a major. I had been trying different types of Gen. Ed. classes, but they usually were pretty bland and boring. I expected this to be exactly that. The large sterile off-white room was packed. The students all thought this would be an easy class to get through to fulfill their Gen Ed requirements.

Then the teacher came in. He was short and hunched over, with a slightly uneven face. He looked grumpy. He sat down at his empty dank metal frame desk and huddled over his papers. When the bell rang, he got up slowly, and said: "There are too many of you in here. You can't teach to this many kids. Ideally, a third of you would drop this class tomorrow. After today's class, I don't think it'll be a problem."

I took that to mean a great deal of homework and remembering boring dates. I was wrong. He started by handing out the syllabus, and highlighting what we'd be focusing on. No radical homework, no monster essays. How is this guy going to get 1/3 of the class to quit?

My answer came quickly. He announced that he was a Marxist. I heard a soft long sigh from the ROTC guy next to me. He was among the 1/3 of the class that didn't return. Over the course of the semester, I got to know Dr. Rosen a little bit. He was the student advisor for the History department, so we had several discussions when I decided to become a History major.

His office was dank and cluttered; there was only one picture in it. It was an old picture of a woman smiling on a beach somewhere. She was happy. It was only later that I heard she was his wife.

Over the course of the semester, I came to view history in a new light. It wasn't about remembering who and where. It was about understanding why, and applying that to the world around us. It was Dr. Rosen that gave me the passion to use history as a way of better understanding why we are where we are.

When we talked about the dark ages, he would close the doors and turn out the lights for 10 minutes. He was talking in a pitch black room, his voice booming. "This is what it was like. Civilization had retreated." On most days, he would work himself up into such a lather that a little ball of spittle would gather on the right side of his mouth.

Towards the end of the semester, I hand delivered a paper to his house. His house was a lot like his office. There was a lot of stuff around, but none of it was really personal. There were books and papers scattered across the living room. Evidence of his being a teacher was everywhere. Evidence of any sort of life outside of that was limited.

I loved being a History major, and I am very grateful I made that choice. Being a History major is largely responsible for how I view the world today. Dr. Rosen was responsible for helping me make that choice because he was a great teacher. I never really reached out to him and let him know what kind of influence he had on me.

In May of 2001, Dr. Rosen retired from teaching. Six months later, he was dead by his own hand.

NIU established an endowment in his name a couple years ago. And he had the same effect on many others as he did on me.

So today, I am making a resolution to contact a couple of my former teachers and let them know that they had an impact on me.

Thanks Dr. Rosen.

(edit for non-spell checkable idiotic mistake of using affect instead of effect - noticed ever so politely by TMC)

2 comments:

Kel said...

such a small gesture has a much greater inmpact that even we can imagine

I always try to thank my own children's teachers and positively comment on specific things that they do in the classroom

why is "molding minds" such a thankless job, and yet the people who are the best at it are so passionate it consumes them

drmagoo said...

When I was in high school, they made us invite a teacher that had been important to us to a special lunch. I didn't want to do it, but my mom insisted. A few months after, I learned that the teacher I'd invited was dying, and that the lunch was a really big deal to her. Later on, after I became a professor, I went back to talk to the teacher who got me interested in physics and thanked him. It felt really good.