Long long long time ago, about a 10 years ago, I was a teaching assistant at Virginia Tech, which people in the immediate vicinity of the College (its a land grant state university) called Tech. SO I often call it Tech. At Tech my first TA assignment was with Prof. Gay Indebetow. Indebetow as he was called at the Tech Physics Dept. was one of the most cheerful guys around in the Department. (Phil Nelson would not fare anywhere close) The other very cheerful people were Prof Slawney from Germany {or was he from Poland?} and Prof Mizutani from Japan. I was evaluating undergraduate student’s Physics papers from the semester and also taking the common office hours where students would ask their doubts, but 50% of them would only show up to ask a favor of raising their scores. In case of an ambiguity even if one is not present Indebetow would like to please the students, every teacher except Prof Mo and Prof Blecher would do that. Prof Bleher had earned two nick names from the Department passed onto me by my employer, an untenured associate professor in the Department. Mo would always blast the American system like the Americans would blast his although in his absence. (Mo was taken to be a person of dread among some, but he was a brilliant teacher despite his Chinese accent, he was a student fo Taylor the Nobel winner and worked at Columbia for his PhD) Students blasted Prof Slawney much more, for his accent and when in 2004 I was his TA and doing recitation for him, this was told to me in the class by the whole class. I was given all the credits for making teh Physics really understandable. I had only one hint from my boss, who told me all you need to do is solve only 3 problems in teh class, you are done, he was a master at such precision and has garnered a name for him in the Department as a top rated teacher. He worked very meticulously at his teaching and the other of his hobbies was swimming. He never liked it if his employed students ever come any close in their hobbies.

SO Indebetow was the perfect guy to work with. He would slip all the material under your door with a note of howto grade this week’s papers. It was a lot. I would never take the papers easily. Work through the details myself before I would give a score to anyone then browse through all of them again to see if I have given any one with a better answer a lower grade. It took a lot of pressure.

I was very sorry years later to see Indebetow had broken his legs in a car accident. He was a very friendly and nice man.

Mizutani was the most laidback teacher in the whole department. He was the complete opposite of Blecher. Blecher does not evaluate all the problems he gives you to solve in the week and it was always JD Jackson and he had developed some hand weaving lecture notes sold by teh local book store (Vol II) Blecher choses randomly problems to be evaluated  SO if you miss one problem you may miss a lot. He would not allow you any more time than he already gave you (one concession only he had extended me one time for a day) But he was one of my fave teachers because I learned. In the contrast Mizutani would give you weeks of additional time if you ask him. He would give 15, 20 30 pages of materials to read and solve as part of his homework and exam strategy. He was a cheerful Japanese guy as opposed to the more reserved but cheerful Tatsu Takeuchi.

SO I was doing fair enough with Indebetow. I was somewhat strict with the students myself being a good student myself. SO I would never entertain bad conceptual work as a candidate to earn good scores. One time there was a problem on Doppler’s effect on sound. One guy obtained a result of 2.95 instead of 3.0. One must get exactly 3.0 in that situation if he has correctly done the problem. I was preparing for my tasks after I took my own classes and was in my office. One strong and stout American student came. They were about 3 or 4 each with some doubts whether they deserved more. I pointed out to all of them that they do not get more and I had made notes of this on their papers, where they had committed mistakes. They were all satisfied. This big guy wasn’t. He said he got 2.95 closer to the answer of 3.0 and he is approximately correct. I must give him some “marks” on this. (mark is the Indian jargon for score on an exam paper)  I said “look you don’t get anything, cos you are conceptually wrong, if you do it right you would get exactly 3.0) He argued. (they always think international TAs are bad with their accent hence they must be bad with their Physics, I didn’t come with any of that.) I offered him the pen and asked him to do the problem on the white-board. He went around and did something which we can call the Soppler effect. I told him “the basic idea is this, you take this speed and that speed and add them because bla blah blah ..” And in a 3 or 4 steps I showed him he has to get 3.0. He was not convinced and demanded he must get more “marks”. I asked him to leave and consult his Professor. (Indebetow saw that he has done it incorrectly, he didn’t get anything)

This also reminds me there was a big guy from India. He was from Pune. I would often see him on the Blacksburg Transit, the Toms Creek A and B) He was in my class the following semester when I was TAing for Indebetow perhaps for the 2nd time. He got a bad score. He saw me in my office and asked for a relaxation. I refused. SO he invoked patriotism. He said “we are both from India, please give me some marks”. I said that is against my policy. I can not give some one a higher score because he is from my country. He had to return unhappy. But that is the way it is. You don’t get more advantage because you belong to certain group and more so the person looking towards the assignment also belong to that group. Most people want to flaunt such a good human value.

So with Prof Slawney (always cheerful, where does he get this !!) [I never sang “sanbli salony teri bholi si ankhen”] I was doing the TA recitaions and office hours in 2004. The students were all very happy with me. They said they don’t get a damn thing Slawney says (they never said “there is a swastika in his pants”) They didn’t say anything about my accent, nobody had ever said that, but they were all praise about the Physics I was teaching them, the mechanics and friction stuff. Those were the days. I would take my technologically prepared Sony Vaio to the class, give them the problems, explain them, clarify their doubt and then hook to the newly installed wi-fi on the campus to answer my emails from Japan.

At the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 I was again assigned to Prof Slawney as a TA. This was unwarranted but I do not interefere with the sloppy people at the helm of affairs who do not see your merit as an instructor or a good teacher. If they could they would for all your life make you a TA and even ask yoy to bring them vegetable from walmart. The system isn’t just that loose yet. But future seems bleak.

In those time I didn’t have much youthful fervor as I had in 2002 or 2004 but I was doing my job properly. And still I do with some painful vibration in my lower abdomen from recurring illness (I am severely diabetic, when I stop medicine it goes like exponential, but I am not into insulin yet, this is about more than 1 and half years I am facing that). I would happily walk with Prof Slawney to the classrooms in Togerson, from Pamplin. If I was at Squires I would just send him an email in advance and present myself in time in the class before the exam. I was proctoring mostly. The next sem I was TAing the labs of Prof Mark Pitt. Mark is also one of the most cheerful guy, but this time he is American. Mark is very friendly and very humanistic in his concerns. He had all his methods in place for taking care of the lab and it was my first time doing labs. (the first time around, many years earlier I just taught the lab material in a recitation, perhaps, if I recall correctly) It was the most fun in my entire TA career. The students just loved me. The women drew my picture giving them training and Josh Barna would come in time to the lab. Ask Xiaoqi Qin for more details. The word was Dash wa cool (I am not saying the other words do not describe me, but thats on purpose) When I would get some time after everything was complete I would take some time off to go to Mill Mountain. It is away from the hustle bustle of downtowan blacksburg and I would sit inside, the outside view was marvelous because it was a glass-house. My tea was often being served by two beuatiful women and I had a crush on one of them. And I would draw some faces on the napkins they gave me of my favorite students from my lab.

SO I was helping Slawney as much as would make him very happy, with the proctoring. And this one time In a huge auditorium of Tech I made it very strict for the students to be not able to violate the honor code. A lady (Hispanic or a Latina lady) she was trying to violate my presence. So I pointed out and Slawney took care of it. We were appropriately terrorsome like a father-son duo in a Godfather movie.

I was attending the Sears lecture either by Eva Silverstein or Joe Polchinsky when I was sitting in the front row. Ok so ot was Eva’s because in Joe’s I was 20 mins late and had created a sensation in the midn of the cop standing there. Slawney comes along and says “YOU missed your Proctoring this week”. And perhaps I did but it had completely slipped off my mind, Just how much experimental high energy Physics and TAing you can do for a decade?

I was perhaps thinking “what are you for Prof Slawney?” I didn’t think that, but it had hardly ever happened that way that I had completely missed an assignment. The only other time I recall was in early 2004 I was a little late to on of my recitation, which was very early in the morning and I missed my bus so my friend gave me a ride. Back then all I can remember is there was a lady in my class that was working also in the icecream store in the downtown by the Kinkos. I noticed her because I saw her in bothe places. I always appreciated deeply how in the American system students make for themselves a little buck while at the same time they are studying hard to earn a degree which may or may not bring them enough fortune in the future.

I always wanted to be that teacher who students liked because they could find someone who they could understand not for his ability to explain Physics but one who understand sthe deeper levels of difficulties they maintain in their personal lives.


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