We’re going with another prompt post today. It’s from Brittany, Herself again. I’m going with prompt number 14 which says, “Teachers can make or break your back to school experience. Tell me about the best or worst one you ever had.” I certainly agree that teachers can change lives and the quality of your teachers truly shapes you in so many different ways. I honestly cannot say that too many of my teachers stand out in my mind. That’s not to say that they were bad, they just don’t stand out. However, there are a few that do stand out and, though I wouldn’t necessarily rate them in terms of best or worst, I do have a favorite…that I can still remember. 🙂 I took every class I could that he was teaching because I just found him so fascinating. That teacher was…well, believe it or not, I cannot remember his name (I found it and added it at the end to give him his due credit)! ?
I’ll try to rationalize my lack of memory regarding his name here. ? First and foremost, my memory is atrocious, but he was also always referred to as “the Italian Professor” in my circles. I didn’t really have many friends while attending my university that were also in my college (I could take classes among any college within the university – hope that makes sense), so no one knew who the hell I was talking about. The Italian Professor stood out though. So that became his moniker. He was in fact from Italy. I believe he told us he grew up on a farm and never attended school as a young boy. Somehow he ended up with a Bachelor’s degree and I believe it was something like 4 Master’s degrees and a PhD. I always thought that was so cool, especially since I also didn’t really attend high school. He was just a fascinating and intelligent person.
His classes were unusual as well. I remember taking one called “Fate and Free Will in the Epic Tradition.” The college I attended used “the great books” to teach, which was an interesting concept, but so stupid and completely inappropriate for my area of interest. At least I ended up being somewhat well read I guess! ? So this class had us reading (if my memory is serving me well as I took a few classes from this professor) various “epics” like The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey or it may have been The Illiad (I read both over the span of his classes), and I want to say Dante’s Purgatorio (again, I read it in one of his classes) was also in there. Every week we met and just talked about the concept of fate and free will, using the books to back up our thinking. It was wonderful and fascinating. We also learned about the historical context and the geographic boundaries of different places from the books we were reading. The wealth of knowledge this man had was truly astounding. I won’t lie – his classes were easy as hell to coast through and completely bullshit your way to an “A,” but I didn’t do those things. It’s cheating yourself to do that anyway. Even if you never read a single word in any of the books we were “discussing,” you still had to walk away not just learning something, but actually thinking about things. Deep, interesting, important philosophical things. That to me has always been the purpose of college/university. Learning to think for yourself and form your own opinions based on the facts presented to you.
Sticking on the atypical way the Italian Professor taught, what do you think he did for a final exam? A court trial of course! ? Let me try to explain. He would hand each student a character from a book with a “charge” against that character. I can’t remember a great example of anything any specific character did so I’m not coming up with an example here, but I know there were murderous characters in there. Naturally they were charged with murder. Make sense? We had a week or two to prepare and were encouraged to come to our “final” in costume. The bigger the better! ? Once in costume and in class (which was also a pizza party – so cool! ?), each student would be put on the stand and the class would throw arguments using incidents in the book against that “character.” That required a defense from the student playing said character…using elements from the book as a defense of course! The class would determine if we were guilty or innocent, which had no bearing on our grades, and then we’d move on to the next. It was the absolute most fun I have ever had in a class, let alone taking a freaking final exam! He understood that if learning was fun, interesting and different, students might just pay a little bit of attention.
He took us on field trips once in a while. We went to Saint John the Divine, an iconic cathedral in NYC, and he told us all about the history, the symbolism, the architecture, just literally everything fascinating about the place. I honestly cannot tell you how it was relevant to the class, but it was just so interesting! I loved it! Then he took us all out for breakfast at a little place near Columbia University (not our University, just close by ?). After that, a group of us tried to find our way home and got stuck in a torrential downpour in Central Park. We took refuge under a bridge – probably not the safest plan – and it was by far the most fun I’ve ever had on a fieldtrip. We went to the Cloisters and same thing – he taught us all about the place and it became one of my favorite hideaways in the city. Side Note – if you’re ever in NYC, I highly recommend going to the Cloisters. Well, if it’s nice weather. It’s such a beautiful and peaceful place. You’ll forget you’re in a ginormous city. It’s such an unsung hero of NYC! Some of my best memories from college seem to surround these field trips and the lectures from the Italian Professor’s classes.
So there you have it. My favorite teacher with the most unconventional of ways. His name may not be remembered, but his heart, his mind, his actions, and even his voice certainly are. Thinking about it now, his classes may not have shaped me much as a University student, but he did. Now that is the sign of not just a good teacher, but a great teacher! Thank you so much Italian Professor. Words cannot thank you enough for the wisdom you shared with me, and I imagine my classmates would say the same.
Oooh! I found his name searching for a picture. Probably should put it at the top, but that’s not being true to my memory of him. His name is Antonio Rutigliano. If you want to read a bit more about him as a professor, you can read his bio page here.