It is a question of whether to be better or bitter...

One of the advantages of being old as the hills is one's ability to see things that you missed when you were younger. I have loved teaching for most of my adult life. I was a teaching assistant in my senior year at college. As an undergraduate, I taught a half dozen subsections for a 10-hour required art history class that covered two semesters. The class had 3-large lectures and two much smaller subsections each week. In addition to teaching the subsections, I wrote the midterm and final, and graded both the tests each semester. I loved that opportunity to teach my classmates material that I had learned taking the class in my junior year. It was a hoot then and was a wondrous opportunity for me, because the arts is such an all-encompassing learning experience.

While that was a golden opportunity for me to teach, it was even a better opportunity for me to see what constitutes a great teacher. His name was Louie Palmer. He was my professor for that course, which was called The Arts. At the end of my junior year having done fairly well in the class, Louie sat me down and asked whether I would help him the following year. His little talk about assisting him said two things: the first is that he saw something in me regarding my interest and understanding of the history of art. While there were some students that did better than me in the tests, Louie could see something within me, which I did not fully comprehend at the time. The second thing was that he was self-confident about himself. He could allow another to share the lectures, writing, and grading the exams. He did not have to be the only one on the top of the mountain.

I have taken over 260-hours of classes in college, graduate, and post-graduate school. Ask me how many of my professors felt secure about themselves and the material to share with students their ideas, fears, and concerns? I can name all of them that I respected as a person and as a professor on my two hands. As I am writing this article, I am hard pressed to name 10-teachers out of nearly 90-differnet courses that I took. There were some but not many.

I have worked at four different universities in the past couple of decades. Ask me how many of my fellow professors and administrators that are examples to me of professionalism in academia? Again, I do not need more than two hands...if that. The one that is at the top of the list of administrators is Dr. Anne Perry. She, as a dean, and Louie Palmer, as a professor, are the archetypes of professionalism, caring, honesty, and ethics. I would trust either with my life.

Now, let us jump ahead to the present. Several months ago, I was standing in Rosslyn Chapel, which is a half dozen miles south of Edinburgh. I had been there when I was in post-graduate school at the University of Edinburgh in the late 60s.

Rosslyn Chapel

Rosslyn Chapel

However, I learned something on this visit that I had missed 45-years ago. I knew about the possible and questionable relationship between the Knights Templars and Rosslyn Chapel, but I had never known about the apprentice's pillar or column. Since I love history...especially art history, I became fascinated several months ago with this legend about a student and teacher. In this case, the teacher was a master stonemason and the student was the apprentice. The legend only goes back to the 18th century - some 3-centuries after the building of Rosslyn in the mid-15th century. Nevertheless, the legend has a strong following.

As the story goes, the master stonemason is given an artistic drawing of a wonderfully designed column. However, he was fearful of attempting to begin carving a replica of it until he saw the actual column. Therefore, the master stonemason leaves the Rosslyn construction site and journeys to see it firsthand. While he is gone, his apprentice has a dream one night about the column and starts to carve it the following morning with great zeal. The apprentice completes the column prior to the return of the master stonemason.

This is an old pen and ink drawing of the apprentice finishing the column:

The apprentice completes his column

The apprentice completes his column

This is a photograph of the apprentice's column at Rosslyn Chapel:

The Apprentice's Column or Pillar

The Apprentice's Column or Pillar

When the master stonemason returned, he discovered that his student had completed the work on the column. Anger, jealousy, and rage filled this supervisor after seeing the beauty that his student had accomplished. So, taking a mallet used for cutting stone, he kills the apprentice by hitting him in the head with it.

Even so, that is not the end of the story. Because the master stonemason had murdered his apprentice, the murderer's face is sculpted on a wall at Rosslyn across from the apprentice's pillar. Therefore, the jealousy and envy that caused this teacher to murder his student resulted in him seeing the object of envy for as long as Rosslyn Chapel remains in the world.

The teacher's face looking at the column

The teacher's face looking at the column

One other addition, above a lintel next to the murderer's face is this Latin phrase: Forte est vinum fortior est rex fortiores sunt mulieres super omnia vincit veritas in English: "Wine is strong, a king is stronger, women are stronger still, but truth conquers all." That sentence sums up the essence of this teacher/student situation at Rosslyn.

As each of us journey through life being taught by teachers and being teachers to others, it seems to me that there is an essential issue that each of us have to address as either teacher or student. How we handle teaching and being taught will determine whether we are better or bitter about life.

I wrote this article the day before I meet with an administrator about another teacher's evaluation of me. How I handle it will be based upon the way Louie Palmer and Anne Perry taught me. Moreover, I am writing this affirmation before the administrator says anything to me.

Thanks Louie and Anne. You will be proud of me.


An old man and his grandson

An Old Man and His Grandson

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