Dr. Ponytail and Dr. Beard

Each day without fail, he would have chalk handprints smeared down the front of his pants. Absent-mindedly, he’d brush off the chalk muttering that he had no idea how chalk dust managed to get everywhere. Dr. Beard may not have known how those chalky handprints ended up everywhere, but all of his students certainly did. We knew those handprints were from his incredible zeal for his subject. We sat as witnesses to the enthusiasm of many amazing professors and engaged as participants in a new and exciting conversation. Dr. Beard, with his chalk smeared pants and Dr. Ponytail, another one of my freshman year professors, served as two of the most influential guides in introducing me to the wondrous land of learning.

The chalky handprints always happened about halfway through the class period as we were really getting to the heart of whatever text we were reading today. A student would say something insightful about the context or meaning of the primary source, and with that Dr. Beard would be off.

“Yes exactly!” he would exclaim in a voice that deserves at least one exclamation mark. He’d flail his arms and clap his hands, scampering from the board to the primary source and back again like a 5-year-old child who has just discovered a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies. In a frenzy of excitement, he’d boom out the text while absent-mindedly striking his hands on his legs. And there were the chalky handprints—a mark of the man’s exuberant interest. “That’s the most amazing thing of all,” he said to us one Friday afternoon in a voice that spoke of adventure and hidden treasure. Cloaked in a new cloud of chalk dusk, he waved Plato’s Republic around as he spoke, “We don’t have to drag ourselves out of the cave. That’s just the point. The light came into the cave—that’s what Plato didn’t know. The light came into the cave and dwelt among us. It’s incredible!”

I found myself nodding, strongly agreeing before I’d even caught up with his words. But I couldn’t resist diving in headlong when the man with a doctorate who has authored five books boomed out the text in a chalk cloud, inviting us to join him in the wonderful adventure of the engaged classroom. Anything that exciting has got to be worth exploring. And our little class of freshman did explore-we leapt headfirst into the cloud of chalk dust and haven’t made it out yet.

Looking back on what made freshman year in the liberal arts program so inviting, I cannot help but reflect on the enthusiasm of our incredible teachers. Students can sense the boredom and apathy in a lecture a professor no longer cares about and has given for the 20th time in their career. And students also know when a professor is mesmerized by the conversation, no matter how many times the professor has taught the class. Dr. Beard, the chalk smudged philosopher, and Dr. Ponytail, the bread baking linguist (at least that’s how I thought of them) stand out in my memory as two of the most important influences in my education because of one thing: their excitement.

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Ponytail give a lecture on Metaphors in Scripture, and I once again found myself enthralled by a topic merely by proxy to a professor’s enthusiasm. “Okay, okay,” he would say as he excitedly paced in front of the classroommentally translating from what he wanted to teach us to where we were at the moment. Yet even in this giant knowledge gap, he was not disappointed in our lack of knowledge; he just jumped up and down at the opportunity to teach us more about a topic he clearly loved. Toward the end of his lecture, a student asked a question about the details of a certain metaphor, and to our amazement, Dr. Ponytail leapt into the air in excitement. His eyes shown as his knees came up to his chest. I will never forget that moment—watching a grandfather jump up in the air in a bout of academic enthusiasm. Dr. Ponytail leapt and smiled, and thoroughly convinced us that what he was talking about was certainly worth our time and investment. He loved metaphors in Scripture, and because of that knee high leap, so did we.

And maybe that’s the key. Having a teacher in love with their topic is a mesmerizing experience; it’s a fairy-land of primary sources, hard work, and chalk dust. Having professors mesmerized by their subject invites you into the Neverland of almost magical possibilities. Teachers who love teaching invite you to love learning.  It opens the wardrobe doors to a new realm of teaching and learning, a journey that is difficult at times but never tedious and certainly not boring. And I, for one, am incredibly grateful that I accepted that chalk-smudged invitation to dive into learning. 

Drew An Brubaker '16 is a Templeton Honors College senior majoring in psychology and minoring in biology and political science. She loves reading Tolkien, drinking tea, and making maps when she is not trying to write an engaging third person bio.