a breakfast serial

One bite-sized story every morning to uplift, motivate, or provoke thought.

the nutty professor

< by Jill >

It was my junior year at UW-Madison, and I needed one more science class. I poured over the class listings, searching for something easy but possibly interesting. Physics? No. Zoology? Eeeh. Botany? Sure. Whatever.

On the first day of class, I slid into the back row. The lecture hall was pitch black and deadly still. Then, a loud KA-CHUNK broke the silence and gave rise to a soft whooshing. Gradually, two spotlights fanned out onto parallel theater-size screens, revealing images that had to be dialed into focus.

A slide show? Seriously? I rolled my eyes at nothing and slunk deeper in my chair.

And then I noticed him: a stout old man fussing over the slide reel. Grey hair rose like wisps of smoke above his head, fluttering in the back-blow of the projector. He muttered to himself, just loudly enough to reveal his accent.

Ha! A crazy old Brit. This should be interesting.

Then he took command and started teaching. The slides whirred by — ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk — each one revealing some abstract concept tenuously related to the next — teosinte, Jeffersonian politics, alkaloids in potatoes. I thought botany was about flowers?

Professor Allen spoke hastily, elucidating the slides with passion and resolve. He never consulted notes; never paused to regroup. Lectures spilled from his soul as sweat beaded on his forehead. And as a result, I listened. For the first time in my college career, I really listened. And lo! I learned. I really learned.

At times, he looked unhinged and sounded nuts. Beyond that, his methods were completely victorian. But to this day, no professor stands out, whether as a personality or as an educator, like professor Timothy F.H. Allen.

As he said in our final lecture, “We’re not designed to be well-adjusted. We’re designed to be problem-solving.”

Professor  Timothy F.H. Allen in his younger years.
Photo from http://www.botany.wisc.edu

2 Comments»

  bravesmartbold wrote @

I love nutty professors. There’s always something to be learned through passion. Beautiful remembrance.

  Larry Who wrote @

He probably fit well into the U of W campus…the school I wanted to attend, but instead went to Univ. of Illinois.


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