Monday, January 11, 2010


We were gathered with extended family at Grammy's house for the monthly Kendall Sunday dinner. My oldest daughter and my nephew chatted over lunch about the courses they had registered to take the next semester at the local university.

"Who will you have for chemistry?" my nephew asked.

"Dr. Davis," Emily answered.

"Oh, no! NOT Dr. Davis!" Ashton grimaced. "My highschool chemistry teacher said to take freshman chemistry with anyone but Dr. Davis. He's a terrible teacher!"

"Ashton, hush your mouth!" (That's southern for "Shut Up Right This Instant!") I pounced on his comment like a cat on a mouse. "What was your highschool teacher thinking, making such stupid comments? Dr. Davis is one of the best teachers on campus."

More than 25 years ago, my room-mate and I registered to take freshman chemistry together. We sat at our front-row desks the first day of class, waiting for our instructor, Dr. Wakim. Suddenly, the door swung open and in charged a small, thin man sporting a crew cut and a lean, sharp face. He walked as if he had wire springs in his legs - everything about him seemed focused, intense, and alert. "Good morning, students. I am Dr. Phil Davis, your instructor for Chemistry 120."

Aaaaaaugh! My room-mate and I looked at each other with wide eyes, both of us visibly wilting under this news. Not Dr. Davis! Unknownst to us, Dr. Wakim had accepted a fellowship to study abroad, and Dr. Davis had been assigned his 8:00 class. Even 25+ years ago, Dr. Davis had a reputation on campus as the professor not to take!

I am so thankful Dr. Wakim had work to do elsewhere, or I never would have known the pleasure of studying under Dr. Davis. He was a demanding teacher who expected much from his students - but he also gave much to his students through his enthusiasm for his subject and his dedication to teaching. In retrospect, I think many students didn't want to take Dr. Davis's class because they knew they'd really have to work - he wasn't an "easy A" kind of teacher. But I probably gained more from that one chemistry class than from any other class that year - better study habits, sharper observation skills, a real confidence in my understanding of the material. Dr. Davis still stands, in my opinion, in a league of his own.

Well, Emily did take freshman chemistry with Dr. Davis. And loved it. Three years later, my oldest son took chemistry with Dr. Davis. And loved it. Reuben became infected with the sheer joy Dr. Davis evidenced in his work. He related how after meeting in the classroom to preview the day's lab assignment, Dr. Davis dismissed everyone to head upstairs to the lab. The professor was collecting his notes and papers as the students headed for the door. "Don't start any fires or blow anything up before I get there - I don't want to miss anything exciting!" In the chemistry lab, Dr. Davis was like a kid in a candy shop, a boy with a new toy train. How could any student not enjoy studying under such a teacher?!

I suppose all of this is to say - what makes a really good teacher? Someone who requires minimum effort, giving minimum effort in return? The teacher who gives "easy A's" and accepts mediocre work as "good enough" to make the grade? The teacher who tells you easy answers to easy questions - or the one who does the more difficult task of enabling students to actually ask meaningful questions themselves?

And, what makes a really good student? The fellow who wants to do just what it takes to maintain his GPA? The student who would truly rather be anywhere else in the world than in a classroom? Who is just checking things off a paper list of requirements for graduation, instead of working to glean as much as possible from his professors?

I have challenged my kids to look at their college education this way: Each course you take costs $______. For that amount of money, do you want to get as little return as possible, or as much as possible? You can take a hundred-dollar bill and burn it, or use it to buy soap bubbles, or spend it on something of lasting value, or invest it so that it continues paying benefits your whole life. Are you going to spend your college years burning time or blowing soap bubbles? Or, are you going to spend this time gathering as much treasure as possible from your teachers?

This Mom is so glad Dr. Davis is still teaching chemistry at UT Martin. I asked him a few years ago if he had any intention of retiring soon. "Not any time in the immediate future," he replied. Good! I still have five more students to send his way!


Christian gal issues said...


This is a great post! I too had a somewhat similar experience.

as a teaching student an UNCG I had to take Physics - don't ask me why an elementary ed major had to take physics, but...... I walked in and the teacher announced that he used to teach at the Navel Academy. I knew I was a dead duck!

but, instead of being military like, he was amazing. He did all sorts of visual things in physics class that allowed me to see instead of just read about them in some text book. He was amazing, and when I was doing poorly the first part of the semester, I spoke to him and he was such a help and an encouragement.

I made it out of there with a C. I am not a very good test taker, but I don't think I remembered more things from a class than from his class. He was great and expected much.

We live in a mediocre world. Everyone is happy with just getting by. I am glad there are still some teachers out there who expect the best from everyone.

I only hope to instil this into my children. Thanks!! XO

emily said...

Ok, this isn't exactly a comment on THIS post, but check out Ashley's latest blog.

I am SUPER proud of you, Mom. I agree with Ashley. You have so much grace and wisdom to share -- and I am thankful that you do!

<3 ep

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