During my first two years of college, I changed my major twice – from interior design to undeclared and then to education – and after I decided on secondary education, I had to decide what area to focus on. I have always loved to read, so I thought about English for a long time, but then during my sophomore year, as part of my core classes, I took a basic American History class. Some of my friends had taken this class the year before, and absolutely hated it, so I was somewhat less than enthusiastic about this class.
The first day of the class, I walked in, found a seat, and waited for the old geezer to arrive. And that’s when one of the best-looking guys I have ever met in real life walked in. He wasn’t old, he wasn’t dead inside, and he was utterly, completely relaxed. Of course, he was also married. But that didn’t change the fact that he was a fantastic professor. I was lucky enough to go to a relatively small school, so even in my core classes, all but one of my classes was small – usually no more than 25 students or so. Having those small classes meant that Professor Williamson could and did encourage discussions all the time. Generally, a basic level history class means lecture – a LOT of lecture – and while we did that too, we also had some fantastic discussions.
We also did some things that weren’t part of a traditional college level class. For example, it was for and assignment in this class that I interviewed my grandfather, a Korean War vet, and my family gained some unforgettable and hilarious stories written in my grandpa’s blocky printing. That class became one of my favorite college classes, and Mr. Williamson became my favorite college professor – but not because he was cute. Professor W loved history. Despite some pretty disheartening personal problems (his wife gave birth to a son with Down’s syndrome during that semester), he never missed class and never gave less than 100%, but at the same time, was one of the most laid-back, relaxed professors I had in 5 years of teaching.
After that semester, Professor W moved to Wisconsin or some random place where his in-laws lived so his wife could have help with the special needs baby, but that feeling of classroom “safety” is one of the strongest memories I have of Professor W. He was utterly and completely relaxed in front of his classes. Having a teacher that laid-back encourages freedom of speech in their classroom, and while I am nowhere near that relaxed (bit of a control freak, actually), I do try to remember that feeling of safety. The feeling we had in that classroom, that no matter what opinion you had (and of course, as college students, we had plenty), you could say it without fear of put-downs or mockery. And every day in my classroom, I want my kids to have that same feeling.
After that semester, I knew that history was what I wanted to teach. I wanted to teach something I loved and after that semester, I knew that I loved history. I have never looked back and never regretted my area of study (well, except on job interviews where I get asked what I coach) and one of the biggest reasons I focused on history was because of this one basic class.
So thanks, Professor W, for that one semester. It totally changed my life. You were a fantastic professor and I have never forgotten that class.