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For My Professors - John Samuel Tieman

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12 Punto 14 Punto 16 Punto 18 Punto presents the article "For My Professors" by John Samuel Tieman.

I just heard of the passing of a teacher, John Lewis of Southern Methodist University. I studied linguistics with him in the early '70s. I am so sad about John's death.

John was one of a number of professors who changed my life. In my family, scholarship was not given much consideration. I was my family's first university graduate. I don't want to give the impression that my family was anti-intellectual. My mother used to take me to the symphony. My father was a voracious reader. But the life of the mind, the life of the intellect, it simply wasn't a daily presence. Skills were admired. But thought as work and play, this just wasn't a consideration. My professors showed me that a life of the mind is an ideal worthy of aspiration.

My professors showed me a world I didn't know existed. John Lewis had a whole library in his place! Prof. Jim Hopkins made meticulous outlines on the chalkboard. He spoke fondly, indeed he honored, E. P. Thompson's “The Making Of The English Working Class”. Thus did he introduce me to thinking systemically about history. I once wrote an eighty page term paper for Prof. Don Niewyk's history class. I had the idea that more words made better writing. He gave me a B. Prof. Larry Grable taught me philosophy. He once said that his aim was to “bother students.” Those two words, “bother students”, became the guiding principal for the forty-plus years I taught. Prof. Myers once took a poem I wrote, scratched out every line except one, then said, “Start there.” From Jack Myers, I also learned this simple lesson. To be a poet is to spend a day rewriting a verb, only to decide, at the end of the day, that it's the wrong verb but a day well spent.

Time does not permit me to name all the teachers to whom I am grateful. But let me tell one story. I was a sophomore, maybe a junior. One afternoon, right after her class, Prof. “Twinkie” Lawhon sat me down before a typewriter. She had me rewrite a paper I'd just turned in, all ten or so pages plus footnotes. My original was careless, sloppy. She made me reconsider every comma, verb, quote and footnote. I'd suggest an adverb, and she'd make me justify the choice. By the time we finished, the sun had set. To be clear, this wasn't a grammar lesson, although it was that also. Prof. Lawhon taught me how to honor the written word.

I cannot reflect upon these people without making two other personal notes. First, when I returned to college in 1971, I was fresh from Vietnam. A classmate asked how long I'd been back from the war. I recall her astonishment when I said, “Three weeks.” I was traumatized, half-crazy. But my teachers showed me kindness and patience. Then there's this. For a variety of reasons, I have never had much self-esteem, never had much of a sense of self-worth. My professors were some of the first to simply say that I am smart and talented, things they conveyed to me before I even knew that.

As I write, I am in my study surrounded by books. To my right is a wall with awards, certificates and degrees, one of which is my doctorate. I married a psychoanalyst. She's a woman with twenty books on her nightstand, none of which are light reading. Indeed, our house is a library. I spent over forty years teaching at the middle school, high school, and university levels. I've published hundreds of poems and essays, as well as a few short stories. My professors made this world known to me. Indeed, they made possible this world in which I live. My gratitude is immeasurable.

2022.08.22 / 10:23
John Samuel Tieman
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