I have a fascination with people and the endless ways they choose to define themselves. In one of my classes, “Madness and Modernism,” we recently spoke of Erving Gofman’s concept of how an individual within an institution is created within the boundaries of said space. Through the lens of his theory, I began to view my English professor and his persona, and thoughts spiraled on from there.
This professor is a brilliant scholar of English literature and has a pithy sense of humor. He couples that with an impressive collection of tweed jackets, skinny ties, bohemian sneakers and well coiffed mid-length curly hair. As he sits on the desk in front of the classroom and looks as us through his fashionable dark-rimmed glasses, I often feel as if his role of “English professor” dictates how he looks and acts. As I considered that, I realized that my professor’s titles often seem to define who they are. To avoid the risk of offending anyone else who has yet to give me a final grade, I continued my analysis on ghosts of classrooms past.
Let us stroll back to my statistics class last semester. My professor, a stout older man who hailed from the East, spoke very fast and expected us to absorb every word at the first listen. He wore heavily starched shirts and ties with strictly geometric patterns, khakis, loafers, and he completed the look with his halo of grey hair. “I tell you this in first week. How you forget?” he would ask us as we cowered in fear, surrounded by charts, graphs and nonsense. This atmosphere of the classroom fostered his attitude and outfits, making him into a caricature of a math professor.
The professor for my Catholic faith class was a priest. Moving on.
My sophomore physics teacher was energetic and incredibly smart, but resembled a modern-day Doc Brown from Back to the Future. He liked to wear oversize polo shirts, sweatpants with elastic around the ankles, sneakers and side-swept hair. He was eccentric -- always showed us pictures of his dogs -- and only lost his temper when someone hinted at disrespect of his science. He was eager to help his students become scientists and seemed to channel most of his self-interest into experiments and higher knowledge rather than any kind of selfish endeavor.
I have seen all of these professors outside of class- crossing the street, at CVS, in office hours. Their images outside often differ so greatly from their in-class personas. Perhaps we all are pawns for greater society, becoming that which surrounds us, or perhaps professors just begin to be stereotypes of their subject areas like people begin to resemble their dogs. Either way, I’m glad that I’ve been so lucky to have professors with as much dynamic personality as their syllabi.
Ellen Ring is a Yorktown native finishing her senior year at Villanova University, where she is pursuing degrees in English, Chinese and writing and rhetoric. She looks forward to teaching secondary biology in Washington D.C. next year with Teach For America.