Nimarta Narang | Hello U.S.A.
Raising hands and office hours
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 01:10
As I raised my hand to answer a question in class last week, I felt comfortable, just as I had back home in my high school classes in Thailand. The only major difference was that most people here have American accents — but everyone was still eager to learn, and the professor was still eager to teach. To my dismay, when I said the wrong answer, the professor took a seat next to me to solve the problem in my notebook. She then proceeded to continue the class discussion from the desk beside me.
This probably seems pretty mundane, right? A professor helping a student figure out how to solve a problem isn’t shocking news or an event to be written about or scrutinized. But allow me to explain my take on the situation. To me, two things about this scenario are strange. The first was that the professor wrote the solution to the problem in my notebook, instead of writing it in the blackboard — which basically serves as the professor’s notebook. Secondly, the professor continued teaching while seated among the students so that if someone glanced through the window or door, it would have seemed as if there were no professor in the class.
Now, allow me to explain why these two occurrences have made a particular impression on me. The teachers in my high school were part of an “international buffet” in the sense that they were American, Thai, Australian and even British — just like at Tufts. I don’t want to imply that my teachers in high school were rigidly strict or held sticks to hit my palm whenever I recited the wrong answer. They were friendly and accommodating, but there always was a certain air of authority surrounding them — the role of teacher demanded respect in our behavior toward them. Having a professor sit next to me and write in my notebook, therefore, had me looking around the room to see if anyone else found this strange. No one seemed to — or they just did a great job of hiding it. The fact that the professor continued to teach the class next to me also made me puzzled. Once again, no one else found it strange.
It seems that the professors here have a more interactive approach when it comes to teaching. Sitting next to the student removes that obvious visual difference in the status between a sitting student and a standing professor. Here, professors seem comfortable walking the line between the role of teacher and peer. I have found it amusing to speak with professors from every discipline about contemporary issues, music, movies and even fashion styles. I have even seen professors take 25 minutes of class time to discuss with students how their weeks have been or how they are doing overall. And don’t get me started on office hours — it seems as if professors can’t jump off their seats fast enough to get you to enter their rooms and ask about problems you’re having.
It’s strange seeing teachers cross over into a realm of peers. It hasn’t yet reached the point where they have asked me to address them by first names, but I would never be able to do that anyway. Before coming to college, a Tufts student told me that even if you’re the 100th person to walk into their office that week, professors will still make the effort to get to know you as a student and as a person. I am very happy to be able to say that this student did not exaggerate one bit.
Nimarta Narang is a freshman who has not yet declared a major. She can be reached at Nimarta.Narang@tufts.edu.