A Teaching Moment
With Ti Ti

This is the backstory. Seven years ago, I met Ti Ti. She was nine-year-old kid. I’ll soon to be 78, and anyone younger than fifty is a kid to me. We met at her home. She said that wanted to play Scrabble with me. In truth, playing wasn’t her issue but winning was. On the other hand, I wasn’t into trying to outdo her at Scrabble.

I have written dozens of articles about Ti Ti beating me at Scrabble. In thirty years of teaching at the college level, I have learned a great deal about observing a student’s academic potential. That is a given, but why am I so into teaching college kids or anyone in general?

I was burned by my family moving from Pennsauken, NJ to Mt. Lebanon, PA. I left Collins Trait just before 6th grade. I was an above average student in a nice middle-class community, but we moved to Mt. Lebanon, which was the 19th best school system in the country and the wealthiest community in Western Pennsylvania. I learned two things while at Mt. Lebanon; I was dumb and poor.

That duality of being both dumb and poor was a curse for several decades until I realized that I was neither. I’m not an Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking. There are loads of professors with a higher IQ than I have but very few are as driven as I am to teach. The scar tissue of feeling inadequate academically causes me to jump at the opportunity to teach wherever I find myself.

I love teaching moments. I guess it is due to my feeling the pain and also due to those who encouraged me as I journeyed down my yellow brick road of academia. While I was a junior in college, I took a 10-hour required class in art history. I loved the class even though I didn’t ace it. However, Louie Palmer, the professor, saw something in me. At the end of my junior year, he called me to his office and asked me to be his teaching assistant during my senior year. Talk about jumping at an opportunity. I knew what the ancient Roman poet, Horace, meant when he wrote, “Carpe diem.”

I learned from Horace.

During my senior year, I taught several sub-sections weekly, wrote, and graded the midterms and finals for both semesters. I owe Louie a great deal. Aside from teaching, Louie asked me to live in his home and to take care of Bimbo, his white poodle. Louie was taking a dozen art history majors to Florence, Italy during winter break where he was teaching an acerated honors class.

When Louie returned, he asked how Bimbo was? I responded that we had fun for that month, but I didn’t know why he asked me. As it turned out, Bimbo had some canine form of epilepsy that would occur monthly. Bimbo would have seizures and would loose control of his bladder and create a mess. I inquired why hadn’t he mentioned that situation to warn me in advance. His retort was an offhand comment that he knew that I could handle it.

My senior year at college was the beginning of my realization that I wasn’t quite as dumb as I had thought. There were other people who helped me in my journey in life to become all that I could be. As I have been helped, I will do what I can to help students.

However, Ti Ti doesn’t fit into that category of someone who needs help in academia. She is brilliant. As a nine-year-old kid, she was both incredibly competitive and had the ability to outdo someone who was nearly seven decades older. On my second trip to visit my family, she acted as a young tour guide. Ti Ti knew a great deal about pagodas and stupas. This is a picture of her is telling me an inscription in a stupa.

This video is of Ti Ti on Inle Lake explaining this remarkable lake. UNESCO has designated Inle Lake as a World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which honors locations that cares for the ecological well-being of area.

Ti Ti won first place in a statewide math contest in her senior year in high school.

It has been obvious over more than seven years of knowing Ti Ti that see was gifted. Even if you weren’t in education, anyone could tell that Ti Ti was intellectually talented. Then I get an email from her a couple weeks ago about Gusto University where she is a student. I couldn’t believe her comment. It seemed that she was stating something diametrically opposed to what I saw in her. I replied that we needed to chat on Facebook Messenger.

During our chat last week, it seemed that I had misread the email. I told her what I thought that she was selling herself short. I was glad that I had made a mistake. However, as we continued to talk, I realized that I hadn’t misinterpreted her email.

My teaching moment

I’m always ready to seize upon a teaching moment. Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty sang Bobby Burns’ Auld Lang Syne last New Year’s Eve. But what raced into my head was another poem by Burns, To a Loose. Essentially, Burns was saying, “It would be a gift of God to be able see ourselves as others see us.”

So, in a not-so-subtle manner, I responded to Ti Ti. The first thing was to get her parents to listen to my chat with her. Then I asked her a simple question. I wanted Ti Ti to grade her academic acumen. Using the grading standard of teachers: 70-79% C, 80-89% B, and 90-100% A, what grade would she give herself? Ti Ti responded quickly and said 80%.

What? Ti Ti was a B- student? Then I realized that Ti Ti isn’t much different in her academic background than I was. A couple years ago, we talked about Ti Ti going to college. She lived in a nice middle-class community and school system very much like mine in Pennsauken, NJ. However, to get into college, we both needed to change the schools that we attended. I went to Mt. Lebanon, and Ti Ti went to the DNNA Private School in Taunggyi. Basically, both schools were almost exclusively college preparatory schools. So, we both started out in regular schools and then went to excellent schools. That isn’t an easy task. We both felt the educational dichotomy that we might not be as good academically as we wished.

Neither she nor I saw ourselves as others saw us. Ti Ti isn’t an intellectual clone of Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking anymore that I am. However, she is one of the most talented students in Myanmar.

Ti Ti, I’m finally wrapping up my essay about you seeing yourself as others see you. There is just one comment that I want to make….

You go, girl. However, I am quite fluent in Myanmar and think that this is correct: မင်းမိန်းကလေးသွားတယ်.