An apple for teacher? How quaint

Thursday, May 20, 2010 - 1:15pm

Three plastic horses prance next to Monika Havelka's computer. A nearby shelf proudly displays an antler from a white-tailed deer. And what's that? A bone?

My students give me all sorts of things, says Havelka, a biology lecturer at U of T Mississauga. One person gave me a scute from a turtle shell, another a shell necklace. But what says You're a great biology teacher better than the gift of a bone from a dead raccoon?

Some U of T students go out of their way to express how much they appreciate their favourite prof. Havelka has thumbtacked a slew of student thank-you notes to her bulletin board, and one undergrad baked Havelka a gooey chocolate cake.

A more modern act of admiration is to set up a Facebook page for your venerated prof. Fans of English professor Nick Mount started an I Heart Nick Mount page. I'm of course very flattered, says Mount, adding that he hasn't visited the Facebook page. I don't want to eavesdrop on student conversations outside the domain of my courses.

Adoring students also set up a Facebook page for Shafique Virani. The Islamic Studies prof keeps in touch with his former students, some of whom say that taking a course with him transformed their life. For these students, gratitude knows no limits. One previous student gave Virani the privilege of naming her firstborn. (Virani and the couple decided to call the little girl Reyha.) Another previous pupil asked Virani to be the best man at his wedding. You changed my life, he told Virani.

Virani would have gladly agreed to be the student's best man if he hadn't been living outside Canada at the time. Still, Virani shared in the wedding as much as he could. I was on the phone with him and his fiancée constantly, and spoke with the groom while he was in the car on the way to the wedding.
I absolutely adore my students, so the sentiment of respect and affection is mutual, Virani continues. It's amazing to know that I played a role in my students' lives, just as they've played a role in making me who I am.

For Clare Hasenkampf - a biology professor and director of Centre for Teaching & Learning at U of T Scarborough, who just won a 3M National Teaching Fellowship - the best gestures are the personal visits - in which a student comes by to say what he or she's going to do after graduation and tell me how I influenced him or her. Maybe the gifts that you can't hold in your hands are the most tangible.

By Susan Pedwell
Article printed from University of Toronto Magazine
Do you have your own story about an unusual gift for a special prof? Tell us at uoft.magazine@utoronto.ca.