Thursday, December 13, 2007

Students bring me things

We all have had those moments in which someone has graciously done for us or given to us things we just flat don't deserve because, after all, who among us is that good a person. The picture you see here is of something I flat don't deserve. It is a 1 lb. (454 g.) canister of jasmine tea, quite literally direct from China (I have a student who was born in China whose mother just came back from there, bringing, my student said, "this much tea"--holding out her arms as though she was carrying a large basket of laundry). It's from Fujian Tea Import and Export Co., LTD, in case you're interested.

One pound of loose-leaf jasmine tea. It makes me wonder how many pounds of tea I've consumed in my lifetime and whether I'll live long enough to brew and drink all this.

I probably will--or I hope to. It's pretty good tea.

Another student this semester has given me a small tray of homemade divinity--two kinds: almond, and brown sugar. Another, who wrote his term paper on the Enron bankruptcy and scandal, gave me his copy of The Smartest Guys in the Room, which I'd always wanted to read and/but how did he know that?

The more jaded among you are thinking, I know, "Poor John: still naïve after how many years of teaching? Have you not noticed the inverse relationship between the waxing of student gift-giving and the waning of the academic calendar?" Why, yes. Yes I have. But none of these students needs to try to buy grades; each is sitting quite prettily in the ol' academic cat-bird seat. Indeed, it's been my experience that my gift-giving students have been, without exception, among my very best. That's what makes their gifts so humbling: they feel well-served; I keep worrying that I've underserved them.

Anyway. Below the fold is a list of other gifts I've received from students. It's not a long list, as you'll see, but they all matter, and some are quite special indeed.

I still have a few days of reading, grading and averaging ahead of me. Happy finals week to fellow teachers, colleagues, and students.

From my teaching days in Mexico: a large ceramic owl wearing a mortarboard.

From my first college teaching job: several letters from students thanking me for teaching them.

Two small wooden carvings of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza that a student bought in Venezuela.

A wooden carving of two pelicans (?) sitting on a log that a student bought in Nicaragua.

A print enlargement of an original drawing called "Voices of Stephen Dedalus" that a student had drawn during our class's discussion of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It's a black-and-white drawing of perhaps two dozen distinct yet tessellating faces. My student called it a doodle, but imagine Keith Haring trying his hand at an Escher drawing.

A mounted photograph of a sunrise somewhere in the Arizona desert that a student took.

The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Decidedly unfunky, but decidedly funk-inducing, if you know what I mean. I once listened to it all the way through; my mood afterward was such that I am now afraid of it.

From my current school: In addition to the divinity and tea and book, a book titled The Desire of Ages.


R. Sherman said...

You're right about the best students being the gift givers. They always seem so appreciative and complimentary. Query whether good students bring out the best in teachers? Is it merely a feedback-loop, albeit a pleasant one?


Winston said...

I presume, kind sir, that you are far above and removed from being influenced toward a more, shall we say, liberally subjective interpretation of test scores. Just thinking out loud...


Belle Lettre said...

I think that's charming. I think that when a student does well and is enjoying the class, they attribute their success and enjoyment to the teacher as much as themselves. It's symbiotic. And so a token of appreciation for good teaching is given.

That's been my experience, at least, on the student-side. I am always charmed by these things, as well as the little rituals like applauding at the end of the term on the last day of class, or giving a gift as a class to the teacher.

John B. said...

Thanks, all, for dropping by.

Randall, I feel challenged (in a good way) by good students; they make me alert, make me work especially hard at making the day's material matter. Both the good thing and the bad thing about teaching familiar material is that it's familiar material, and good students make it feel less familiar.

Winston, you dare even suggest such a thing!? Students throw their baubles at my feet, but I remain the very definition of "unswayed."

Belle, good to see you here. "Symbiotic" is a good way of describing the teacher-student relationship at its most effective.

Pam said...

I completely agree with you - the gifts have always been given by the best students, and that isn't so surprising, since one could perhaps also assume that these students take the learning process more seriously to begin with, thus their appreciation of the process (the teaching and the learning) might be greater.

For me - I interacte almost solely with graduate students (except for the summer undergraduates in research programs) and my gifts have mostly come from the international students that pass through the lab - a small painting (oils on papyrus) from an Indian student after a trip back home, two tiny carved wooden bowls from Sri Lanka, a plastic sumo wrestler with a wind-up fan on his belly, and yes - the wonderfully scented rose that has two blooms on it this morning (given to me by a doctoral student from Puerto Rico after his doctoral defense) - perhaps my favorite was the collection of items given to me by my 'first' lab group when I just began as an Assistant Professor - the same student who gave me the rose after his defense had taken a disposable cardboard glass pipette box and covered it in antique velvet and embroidered my name on it - then other students in the lab had put miscellaneous things in clear plastic petri dishes: a certain type of chocolate - items that all had some past significance in our relationships. They gave it to me after I returned from the funeral of my grandmother. That covered box and the sumo wrestler sit on my desk still.

Naive? No. Hopeful? Yes.

dejavaboom said...

I wonder, if a survey were conducted, if all teachers are 'gifted' or if this is a rarity. It would be an interesting study. Like you, John, I've gathered up some peculiar and priceless gifts in my day. I would offer that no one is more deserving than you, my friend, and if I were not so fiscally challenged, I'd buy you...well...something really exotic. (I spent an hour in the Harley store yesterday, under the guise of taking my kid there to sit on Santa's lap...)

John B. said...

Mr. vaboom,
Me haces favor, as they say in Spanish. You ask a good question--I'm not sure how rare a thing it is for instructors to receive gifts. I'd go around and ask my colleagues, but I wouldn't want to embarrass anyone. "What?? No gifts, ever, from any students? What a loser you must be!" Bad form, no?

But anyway: let's just say that I felt especially unworthy of this semester's gifts--my personal upsets really interfered with my teaching. But then again, I always feel "especially unworthy," so what else is new?