Teachers and Terror Part 1
by Meg Curtis, PhD
My favorite German professor was a terror. She came at a class like a martial artist. We trembled in her classroom because we knew it was her dojun—her gymnasium, her kingdom. She always located our points of ignorance and struck intellectually like a hammer hand splitting a block of concrete.
We knew we were dumb as sticks, and that recognition was simply honest. This professor had left us bereft of her wisdom for six weeks while she buried her father in the Father Land. Until she returned, her replacements suffered by comparison. They were "nice." They were "pleasant." They were weak. We stayed dumb.
When she returned, she had six more weeks to whip us into shape. She began by forbidding us to speak any language except German in her hearing. We stumbled over our "der's" and "du's," but obeyed her orders because second semester followed first, and we could not proceed to writing without grammar.
She sounds ruthless and cruel, but her method worked. As she stalked back and forth before the class, we waited for her to initiate conversation with each one of us. One by one, we received her individual attention in the form of a question in German requiring an answer in German. If we failed to reply, she ridiculed us in German.
Can you see us sitting there, decreasing our self-esteem, and ramming our learning pedal to the floor? Can you see us passing our grammar tests after just six weeks? Can you see us writing a 500 word essay—all in German—the next semester? Then you can see what we learned: We feared being ignorant, for it really, really hurt.