I’ve become the absent-minded professor

Charcoal Drawings of Bones

When I first started teaching at the college level in 2005, I remember staunchly pledging to myself that I was going to eternally remember and appreciate every single student I ever had.  Nothing bothered me more as a student than when professors didn’t take the time to get to know each student as a unique individual.

Now it’s ten years later, and I find myself walking around the RISD campus, bumping into students who wave and call out my name.  Once in a while I remember a student’s name, but more often than not, I have to wave back and just say “Hello” without a name.  All I can think to myself is: “I totally know you were my student, but I can’t remember your name, or what semester I had you.”

Obviously, that pledge I initially made is long gone. When I contemplate the sheer number of students I’ve taught in one decade, the numbers are dizzying. The other day I was looking at my grade archives, and I’ve now taught 25 classes of Freshman Drawing at RISD, (20 students per class) and that’s not counting all the other courses I’ve taught in the Illustration Department, the Printmaking Department, and the three other schools I taught at before.  I’m at the point now where I’ve had so many students that if you’re not in my class right now, it’s pretty much guaranteed I won’t remember your name. (and if you shave your head and/or dye your hair, there’s no chance)

I casually told this to a student once, and so he asked me how he could get me to remember him.  I told him that he would have to pull some totally outrageous stunt in class, or, be extraordinarily amazing or terrible in some manner. That semester, he put himself on a personal mission to cement himself into my brain.

Final Crit

He succeeded, and I will never, ever forget him.  He performed the most precise impersonation of my critiquing style for the entire class one day to hysterical laughter from the other students.  I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard in my entire life. He had all of my physical mannerisms, hand movements, the right phrases and vocabulary, the correct intonation of my voice, and the facial expressions down to an exact science. (apparently, there’s a point in crits where he says that I “go in for the kill” by bending my knees, lunging my body forward, and pointing my finger at the drawing) Let’s just say that I learned things about my physical movements that I never knew before. Teaching certainly does expose you to a high level of scrutiny in a way that other professions do not!


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