From a young age, my dad has often told us the story of how he became a mathematician. It started from his middle school math teacher who expressed the love he himself had for the subject and made sure to pass on to his students. My dad found a passion for math in middle school that stayed with him and strongly influenced his career choice. This teacher had a big part in shaping his life and every time that middle school math teacher has been mentioned by him, his voice cracks a little, he takes a deep breath, and his eyes shine. That’s a teacher that made an impact.
I was blessed to have been in relatively small classes in elementary and high school where personal attention was always important. I had many teachers to thank for my excellent education along the way and particularly several history teachers who directed my path towards taking Jewish History in my University studies.
However when I arrived at University last October, the immense size of classes, and the fact that each class met only once a week, made me conclude from the beginning that the personal attention I was used to, would not be present here.
On my first day at Hebrew University, my first class was “Introduction to Political Science”. This was my last choice out of options available to me and I had reluctantly chosen it, since it was the only one that fit my schedule. I came in expecting the worst but by the end of that first lesson, I was excited, and have remained excited for the rest of the semester. The professor was so lively and engaging; he was interested in our opinions and he constantly gave current examples in order to teach us one thing or another. He was thought-provoking, suggesting problems and asking questions, to just make us think. He also encouraged us to send him emails and was always available before and after classes to answer questions. The swarm of students that came up to him became a ritual during each lesson.
I found myself sending him many emails asking questions about the lessons and the articles he assigned. The professor made his own opinions clear during the lessons, but he encouraged those of us with opposite views to speak up and express ourselves. I was one of those with different opinions, but preferred to express myself in the email format. Each email that I sent, no matter how long or short, was answered at length, asking questions, and providing clear answers to my queries.
He was the only professor I went to during his open-office hour to discuss my questions, face to face. He was also the only professor I thanked in an email at the end of the semester, stating that although I had not originally wanted to be in his class, by the end of the semester, I was sad about the fact I would not be exchanging emails with him anymore. In his response to me, he wrote the following:
Two or three years after I had finished my doctorate in Oxford, I sent a mail to my mentor, asking him a question. His reply was, ‘you are a big boy now and you don’t need to ask me questions’. I responded: ‘In Judaism, we have a saying: once a rabbi, always a rabbi’. So, using this story as an analogy, I am always available to my students even when they are not my students anymore. I am happy to answer any question you have in the future.
The email really moved me and showed me that a real teacher is always a teacher no matter how many students are in his or her class or how many classes he or she teaches. This experience which I shared with other students, caused them to recall some of their best teachers at Hebrew University such as the retired professor in his 80’s who encouraged his students to constantly ask questions, to be vocal with their opinions, and especially encouraged those who were usually too shy to speak, as well as the head of a major who fought for, spent time with and stood by his students even though this was outside of his job description.
Very often I hear horrible stories about a crazy professor, or a professor who always gives low grades or the one whose voice just seems to drone on and on. We often complain and we let off steam with these horrible stories. But it is the good ones that make you realize how lucky you are to be in a certain institution and to appreciate that you chose that place to study. My professor for “Introduction to Political Science” and others as well have made me very proud that I am a student at Hebrew University. Their dedication and passion are an inspiration for my two and a half years ahead.