The Ugly Professor

Note: This article was published in LinkedIn. If you would like to publish it or need articles of this sort, please get in touch with me.

The previous day I had hinted to them that tomorrow’s class will be special. And to my surprise, nearly the entire class was present that day. Time is scarce today, so I went straight to the business once the slides were set on the screen.

Today’s class was not written by me, it was written by someone else and I am just going to present it to you. It was written by Mr Hans Christen Anderson, back in the 1800s.

(Slide with text) Written by Hans Christen Anderson

There was pin-drop silence. I have managed to catch their attention.

Let me add a bit more details for the reader’s benefit. We were supposed to start the 2nd unit of Java Programming, in 1MSc class. And turns out it was written in the 1800s?

It’s titled “The Ugly Duckling”.

(Slide with text) Once upon a time, in a country Far Far Away...

I could see smiles and murmurs unsuccessfully trying to break the silence.

Well, I heard it from the protagonist himself, so let me tell you the story the way I heard.

I put the word protagonist there intentionally.

Wait, did I just say protagonist? I wonder where that word popped up from! Does someone know it’s meaning?

There were vague attempts to describe the word, at last, we decided to google about it. And turns out I used it right.

I took a quick poll at the beginning of the semester and a few of them suggested that they want to improve their language skills. And this is one of the ways I did it, by coming up with a random word; and if time permits we will try to find its spelling, guess its meaning, and confirm our guesses by googling about it.

I have an attention span of a mosquito! Where were we?

Suggestions floated all around that we were about to begin the story.

Oh yes, in the protagonist’s own words.

It goes this way: Quack. Quack quack quack quack. Quack quack quack quack, quack quack quack!

Laughter broke out and I found myself enjoying the moment. I had conveyed the duck’s emotions right by modulating my quacks and they knew something terrible had already passed. Can’t waste more time.

That was the most heartbreaking part! And you guys are laughing at his misery?

I was reminded of last year’s class, where I first experimented this concept. After the class, Jocelyn popped up and said “Sir, the idea was so good. But you are a horrible storyteller!” I’ve come a long way since then!

The mind is a fascinating thing. I realised that while memories were flashing up in my head, I had never stopped speaking.

Oh, wait! How many here speak Duck [language]?

All laughter and no hands went up.

So I’ll have to translate it for you? So be it!

As random a reader, on my blog or LinkedIn, I’m not going to bore you telling a story you have heard a zillion times since childhood. Or better, you can read it in Wikipedia yourself. I did make a few tweaks here and there, to tailor fit it for my general objective in telling the story.

I had their attention all through, some following the sad life of the duckling wondering what he should do next and some who knew the story already, curiously waiting to see where I am taking it to.

…and once he realised that he’s a nothing but a swan misplaced among ducks, he jumped and danced and flew away.

(Side with text) ...and they lived happily ever after.

It’s a children’s story and I cannot just end it without a moral, so I added:

Of course, the moral of the story is that you should never tell such sad, depressing stories to your children! Look at this! He’s being made fun of, made to live through colour discrimination (being very careful not to hurt Paul, a student from Africa), teased by a cat, falling sick – Aagh!

I gave them a moment to discuss this deep, yet useless truth about life I had just revealed to them. I was thinking of Jemima, another prized student in the previous batch, who, in a random situation told me “What better way to give a message than through a story?” That reminded me of one of my mom’s classes back in school – where she taught a lesson in biology, through a story. Connecting the dots, I decided to give it a shot with a paper I teach. But to my disadvantage, I was teaching in a college, not a school.

Their curiosity was at peak now, though the story was done: four years of learning mathematics and here’s someone telling us a story instead of teaching us. Where is he taking it to?

Time to come to the point!

But for some reasons, I have got a hang of torturing the little duck. Wasn’t it fun, being the pig who calls him “Blackie”, mean cat who kicks him around? Let me put him through the misery once again!

We took a moment to google the meaning of the word which “sounds like” mystery, and we continued but this time, I took control of the slides.

… the duckling stayed on the farm with his mother. Unlike his siblings, he’s had a darker complexion. He had no friends there. The other animals in the farm always made fun of him….

…he knew that if he stayed on the farm, he won’t have any friends and others will make fun of him. So he decided to not stay in the farm – to leave the farm….

While telling the story, I paced myself slow and never pointed at the slides. But their eyes were glued to it and I could see them connect the dots. They were intuitively exploring the ideas of if, if…else, if…else if…else ladder, nested if, which I took a moment to formalise at the end. I also introduced the switch case in the same context, and they happily welcomed it. And I ended the show with this slide,

I was excited at their response. I asked a student to help me with my laptop and projector, bowed out of the class.

I don’t know if I was dancing my way back to the department, but I sure was happy beyond measures.

It worked.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Antonin says:

    We miss you sir🙁🙁

    Like

    1. Already missing y’all!

      Like

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