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LJ Idol IX - 19. Kindling (~600 words)

I know a man. He is tall, pot-bellied, with a large meaty nose and angular countenance. His face is ruddy, his eyebrows bushy, his hair flaxen where it was once ginger. He has piercing hawk-like eyes and a baritone voice hoarse from excess smoking. The man is imposing, slightly intimidating and has a reputation for being a "beast" of a teacher among the students of the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute where he has been a Professor of General Physics for more than forty years.

The year I started my studies there, he gave one of my groupmates 7/10 during the entrance exam, which is not a bad mark but not a good one, either, and told her that she was going to wash out before the year was out.

The man likes his discipline: if you are more than five minutes late for class, you leave and do not come back without a pass from the dean; you talk during a lecture, and you are out; at the end of term, you have to present all assigned homework for perusal to get your credit.

He is feared by some, talked about behind his back by many, and told funny and horror stories about by more than a fair few.

He is also a brilliant lecturer, an unparalleled practical work leader both in the lab and in the classroom, my all-time favourite Teacher and...a big old softy underneath his academic persona and one of the few true gentlemen of my acquaintance. He has been a source of inspiration and admiration ever since my first week at college fifteen years ago and also the reason I am who I am on such a deep level as is scary to contemplate.


The ordinary high school I'd graduated from may have offered a larger than average number of language classes, yet it did little to prepare me for the intensity and level of work expected at college, notwithstanding the two years of extra classes in maths and physics I had taken in preparation. The fist term, I floundered and could hardly read my textbooks, which seemed too dry, too patchy, and too confusing. My saving grace were notes taken in theory classes because our Professors managed to explain most subjects in a hands-on manner the assigned books failed to come close to. Even then, I barely managed to scrape by with C's in the core subjects and a steady B in Programming.

The wake-up call and the turning point for me at the time was the first exam in the man's subject, which that term was Mechanics, even though I did not realize until much later how very close I came to failing it. I will never forget the look of exasperated fond disappointment he gave my failing attempts to explain the basic principle behind a physical phenomenon before leaving the classroom for a smoke break, giving me the few precious minutes it took my brain to reboot and find the (obvious) answer.

And thus it continued for the five wonderful terms I had with him, a thorough understanding of the basic principles followed by a steady logical build-up to more difficult matters, no shortcuts, no "as everybody knows", just elbow grease and understanding.

What he did, in the end, was teach me how to study and structure knowledge, and for this gift I shall always be grateful.

Backlit black and white image of the man standing by the blackboard, chalk in hand, looking to the right.
Image credit.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 26th, 2014 02:37 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.

I am a little scared to post this, because I love him very much, and yet I struggle with words; the years have erased much of his classes from my memory, leaving only the even more precious asides.
Aug. 26th, 2014 03:20 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful tribute to a memorable teacher. The way you described him physically, I already had his image clearly in my mind before seeing the photo – and was also disposed to like and respect him immediately. :-)
Aug. 26th, 2014 08:41 pm (UTC)
In my experience, most of the teachers students complain about are actually the best there are, those who make you work.

Unfortunately, though, that is not always the case, and when it is not, those insructors are horrors who don't teach yet demand respect for some reason.

I am glad I put a picture in your head :-)
Aug. 26th, 2014 03:28 pm (UTC)
This is a beautiful testimonial to your instructor. It truly is a life-altering experience to be gifted with a "guide" of this kind. Great photo, too!
Aug. 26th, 2014 09:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you. And yes, everything you say is true, we are lucky to meet teachers like him.

I love that photo. Which reminds me that I forgot to credit it. Doing so now.
Aug. 26th, 2014 04:56 pm (UTC)
Your description of your professor reminds me of the character of Professor Kingsfield from the 1973 film The Paper Chase.

It appears to me you were one lucky student!


Sep. 10th, 2014 02:51 pm (UTC)
I was. Thank you :)
Aug. 26th, 2014 07:52 pm (UTC)
He does sound like a fascinating person. I think if you put a name in for him somewhere it would be helpful, rather than just "he" or "this man."

Also, you mistyped "classroom" here: before leaving the classrome for a smoke break
Sep. 10th, 2014 03:07 pm (UTC)
I did not use his name deliberately... but I forget exactly why. Valerian Ivanovich Gervids.

And he was fascinating, I used to file away all the little bits he told us about himself, haha. :)

Edited at 2014-09-10 03:08 pm (UTC)
Aug. 27th, 2014 10:33 am (UTC)
He sounds like a wonderful teacher.
Sep. 10th, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, he is.
Aug. 27th, 2014 07:58 pm (UTC)
How lucky you were to have this teacher! It's a shame so many thought he was a beast. You conveyed a wonderful picture of the man. I enjoyed your entry very much.
Sep. 10th, 2014 03:34 pm (UTC)
Those who did so resented that he made them work, I think :)

Thank you.
Aug. 27th, 2014 11:47 pm (UTC)
Your fondness for him really comes through, and this

a thorough understanding of the basic principles followed by a steady logical build-up to more difficult matters, no shortcuts, no "as everybody knows", just elbow grease and understanding.

is one of the marks of a good teacher, to me. To be able to explain in more than one way (without skipping over parts!), and to help you learn in such a way that sheer effort will help you through the tough parts are other aspects. That he helped you learn how to learn is one of the greatest gifts a teacher can offer us. :)
Sep. 10th, 2014 03:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, he totally did the explaining in different ways thing. Once I was convinced I just ~couldn't get a topic, but upon the third approach I finally did :)

Thank you.
Aug. 30th, 2014 12:24 pm (UTC)
A nice tribute to the person who shaped your life...:) Sometimes words fail and picture speaks but in your case they both complimented each other..Good Job!
Aug. 31st, 2014 01:11 am (UTC)
I agree with you about complaining about "as everybody knows." I found it so frustrating to hear that so often in my algebra classes. I used to say that I would make a good math teacher (though I considered myself terrible at math) because "I knew all the hard parts."

Ironically, I eventually did become a math teacher for a while. Not sure if I guided people through the hard parts sufficiently. I think it is hard to teach someone who doesn't get it, when you do and it's so intuitive to you that it's hard to see what the hard part is. One technique I used was to let the students pair up so they could help each other. (These were 11 year olds.)
Sep. 1st, 2014 12:09 am (UTC)
You're really good at describing people. We're all getting perfect mental images in our heads, the voice especially.

I love tough professors. I hate lenience and gentleness - probably because my goal is surgery, and I'm always thinking of the people I'm going to have to serve with my knowledge. That and it feels like, "Of course you couldn't have gotten it, I should have known to hold your hand ... " But tough professors are angry because you didn't meet their expectations, which means they think you're more than capable of doing so. It affirms my abilities even if my actions didn't live up to it this time, and it lights a fire in me to do better and not shame myself again.
Sep. 1st, 2014 01:07 pm (UTC)
I hope you share this with him, if he's still living - we can never forget those who teach us to learn.
Sep. 1st, 2014 09:01 pm (UTC)
A great tribute to an inspirational mentor! It's people like that that help us become who we will be.
Sep. 1st, 2014 09:54 pm (UTC)
this is a lovely tribute. a lot of times the really tough professors, the ones that students bitch about, are also the really good teachers.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )

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