TED Tips – Issue 9: First Impressions

Listening to Chancellor’s Kopper’s excitement about the sesquicentennial theme “150 years: Inspire. Engage. Transform” I was reminded of a personal story about first impressions. First impressions can have incredible impact on our students: both positive and negative. The “best” first impressions tend to be memorable first impressions! These are the impressions that can inspire students, get them to engage, and get them to achieve more than they thought possible. They can become memories that last a lifetime.

When I was a student, my first year philosophy instructor was Fr. William Ryan, SJ, a senior faculty member and a Jesuit priest. On the first day of class, Father Ryan terrified me. He looked like a villain from a fantasy movie.

Imagine him. He had a couple of peculiar physical characteristics that he leveraged for maximum cinematic impact. He was double-jointed with reversible elbows that bent the wrong way. They swiveled like a contortionist. On that memorable first class, he greeted us perched precariously forward on these elbows, hands like off-kilter talons dangling from broken bones. He had large dark beady eyes that protruded slightly too far from his head on menacing eyestalks. To add to the menace, he swayed silently like a cobra, back and forth, back and forth.

There were no rows in the classroom. The desks were arranged in a circle around the outside of the room. As we were settled in in our seats, trying desperately to avoid eye contact, unsure what to expect, we waited in silence; those large beady eyes flickering from side to side glaring at each student in turn, with no place to hide… The atmosphere was thick and unease, fear, and terror collected as beads of sweat on a warm fall day from anxious — now silent students. We awaited some proclamation that would likely spell our doom for the semester.

The uncomfortable silence lingered. After what seemed like an eternity, (likely no more than a few seconds), Fr. Ryan stood up and started class. He was not a large man. His voice was soft but the silence amplified his words into a bellowing roar. Three words without preamble or introduction: “KANT WAS WRONG!”

This was NOT what we expected on the first day of class. Who was this misshapen lunatic? Who was Kant? Why was he wrong? Am I in the right class? I hope Kant is not a student! Do I belong here? Can I do this? What madness was this? Am I smart enough to be here? What does this mean? My class was ensorcelled.

Then I started to notice something remarkable happening. After another pause, Father Ryan sat back down into is his chair. No longer perched on backwards elbows, his arms now rested at his side. A slow tremendous smile spread across his face. His eyes softened. A warmth began to spread across the room led by his smile. A glow replaced the glower. A soft laugh replaced the bellow. My class started to relax.

“Welcome to class!”

The spell was broken. It would take a long time to learn more about this Kant character and why he might be wrong…but we could begin the school year!

TED Tips. Technology. Education. Design.
–Teaching, Learning, and Technology Consultant

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