13 December 2008

Watch out for flying erasers

Sally Quinn was one of my favorite all-time teachers, even though she taught chemistry, a subject that was not among my Top 100 Preferred Topics. Botany, sure, biology, yeah, even plant pathology was more interesting (Hey, Dr. Yoshimura! I have some phytophthera with your name on it!).

But Sally Quinn made chemistry fun through her sheer force of will. She loved the subject and her self-described mission was to turn students into chemistry majors. She brought every kilowatt of her considerable energy to teaching. Being in the room with her was like being in the audience of a Tom Jones show - you knew you were witnessing someone who really loved their work.

She showed up and she expected you to show up with the same attention she did. She assigned homework, lots of it, and when you came to class, you had better have done the work because she would quiz you aloud and hold a blackboard eraser in her hand. The more you fumbled about for an answer, the further her arm would cock back until *bango* you suffered the indignity of a chalky eraser blow to the noggin. She was a good shot, too.

Her other deal was that she did not take late work. She explained how simple and relaxing this made life.

"If you're not going to do it, quit worrying about it," she said. "You don't have to think up and excuse or calculate how many points you have lost, because you CANNOT turn work in late, ever."

She would let you miss an exam however. There was one simple requirement: a note from your doctor. Stating that you were in the hospital at test time. That's all. Otherwise, no flood, fire, or earthquake was supposed to keep you from chemistry.

Even back then, as a dissolute community college student, I admired how seriously she took her work. She showed her respect for us by coming to class fired up and ready to teach. Her toughness did not come from being mean. It came from a determination to teach us chemistry and to not let us wiggle out of it with our usual stupid excuses.

It really affected me. Sally Quinn made me a better student and a better person. I wish there were more like her.


mar said...

my classical greek prof would sometimes pitch chalk at us if we didn't conjugate or decline words properly. that was only in first year. and it was mighty fun wandering around israel with barbara (dr mccauley) while she haggled with taxi drivers.

Suzanne said...

Nothing drives me battier than professors who continually extend the deadlines for papers assigned at the beginning of the semester. Being a good little nerd, I always manage to have mine done on time. Not sure why people have no standards in academia. If I were a professor, I would want to be just like Prof. Quinn. She sounds awesome.

lizgwiz said...

My high school chemistry teacher (actually, this was Chem 2, which was my favorite class that year) used to give us assignments with titles like "Partial Thermal Degradation of Mixed Saccharides with Protein Inclusions"--which turned out to be peanut brittle, the week before Christmas. She was great.

Project Christopher said...

It's so funny you were talking about your Chemistry teacher. My HS Chem teacher, Ms. Edens was a hoot. She ALWAYS wore a dangly necklace and if she forgot for some reason, she'd connect paper clips and wear them. She would also give out little Hershey Kisses when you made an A on a test. Big surprise.. I was a bad student and failed the HELL out of Chemistry but once I actually passed a test with a 72 and she gave me a Hershey Kiss for passing! She nearly died when she found out I double majored in college in Chemistry and was an honor graduate. :)

Back to top