The Wizard's Apprentices' Last Day
Today was my students' last day as Wizard's Apprentices. After today, they all will have finished their one required lab course (this was a basic "survey of biology and chemistry" course) and will return to complete their business, accounting or english degrees as they work their way towards their bright and shining futures as tomorrow's Masters of the Universe.
I spent 2 hours this morning preparing their lab practicum, which examined them over the anatomy of the fetal pig, Sus scrofa, that they have been intensively exploring during the second half of the semester. This exam consisted of 30 questions, one per "station", where a student's fetal pig dissection would be lying in a pan on its back, splay-legged, guts obvious to the world. A pin sporting a small, numbered piece of tape was stuck into a particular structure or organ that the students had to identify. Each student was given one minute to identify each item as they moved from station to station in unison (well, more or less). Later, the lecture professor, who acts as the lab sections supervisor, told me that he thought the exam was "beautifully done." I should take some pride in that, I suppose.
I, on the other hand, was somewhat disappointed by this exam because all the other instructors decided that the students (non-majors, after all) should only have to identify particular organs and structures, but were not required to know anything at all about the physiology (the special function) of each structure. I think this lack of required knowledge placed these students at a disadvantage because part of identifying something is to know a little about what it does. Or so I think because that's how I learn best.
After I had finished setting up the practicum, I found myself with a few minutes remaining before the exam was scheduled to begin, so I ran through the sweltering heat to the science building for an iced latte as a treat to myself. I later realized this was a mistake as I tried to move errant pins back to their proper location with shaking hands.
The exam didn't take long, as I had planned. My students, who seemed to prefer talking to me rather than taking the exam, had to be reminded repeatedly that this is a final exam, not a somewhat smelly social hour at the nearby pub. But really, I spent those last minutes with them secretly feeling happy that they still wanted to speak to me.
Almost all of my students are of the Jewish faith and many of them did not like hearing about evolution -- at first. But I think I did reach most them (I am not sure how I managed this) because they all became more comfortable and interested to discuss evolutionary theory with me as the semester progressed. This freedom to speak so freely with them about evolution was tremendously satisfying to me.
Of course, we all shared a passion for Harry Potter, which might have been how we connected. Shortly after the semester began, one of my students cautiously informed me during classtime that they had all agreed that I reminded them of Professor McGonagall -- this was before they knew of my passion for Harry Potter. I was surprised and complimented. I can only suppose that my lab section (there were four in total) was thought of as Gryffindor House, although none of us mentioned it. A few days later, I accidentally referred to the lecture professor in front of my students as "Professor Binns" (as mentioned in an earlier essay on this blog -- let this be a lesson to you all regarding the nicknames you choose in your blogging for your associates). My students, whom I had been referring to as "my Wizarding Apprentices", laughed and began referring to him that way, too. Oh, and don't let me forget to mention that, after finishing the taxonomy lab, the entire class had a great time trying to figure out the proper classification for hippogriffs, unicorns, and centaurs!
But today, it all ended as abruptly as it started.
Today, I realized that I am probably the last real interaction that most of these people will ever have with a scientist, or with science and evolution. I hope that I did a good job, that they learned something that interested them, that they learned something that they can take with them always, as I told them several times during class. I hope they saw the astonishing beauty that was before them every day, disguised as a pig. I hope that they grew to appreciate science and her practitioners. I hope that I had made a subtle difference in their lives and in how they think about things. And also, selfishly, I hope they will not forget me.
After the exam was over, I packed up my books and answer papers and walked out the door to find one of my students waiting for me.
"Thanks, Professor," she smiled at me. "I learned so much from you. Now I want to take an anatomy class!"
Purchase College, State University of New York (no, I am not affiliated with them)
Holy Trinity School (no, I am not affiliated with them, either).
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