Friday, October 01, 2004

The Office

On the bottom floor of the oldest math building on campus there are offices. Offices for teacher's aides, and offices for professors. The building is tired and well used, it is clear that the janitorial staff tries its hardest to keep it clean, but one can tell that many a student and teacher have walked its halls. Every possible nook has been filled with something; chalkboards in the corners would provide places where if one needed he could quickly jot down the solution to a problem that had been percolating in the head for hours. The entire building is floored with linoleum tile, the lighting is fluorescent, and at the end of a maze-like hall you find yourself at the door. Two students are in the corner, a dead end with the aforementioned chalkboard. One stands scribbling, the other sits taking notes. You nod your head to the students and begin to read the tiny blue post-it note on the door.

It reads: Please Homeworks: 7:30, 9:45, 10:50 - under the door.

After reading the scribbled note you knock on the door. Seconds later the door opens, and you are invited into the office. The wall on your right is floor to ceiling book shelves filled to overflowing with books. On your left are two computers on a desk, and a window with the blinds put down. Straight ahead is another desk, and every bit of wall that isn't window or bookshelf is blackboard. The office smells of strong, black coffee. The coffee maker is bubbling away; there is a half eaten cookie on the desk, and piles of papers that never seem to end. It is no wonder that in today's age, professors need graders; otherwise they would never get through it all. There is a chair against the bookshelf and you are asked to sit down. You can tell that you have removed the professor form some distant land of calculation, he is soft spoken, but alright with your presence, as it is office hours.

The office had a feeling to it. Not that you could explain, but it left an impression. It wasn't neat and orderly after the style that the professor taught you to hand in your work, but there must be some method to his apparent disorganized. Asking your questions, he carefully goes through the piles on his desk until he finds what you were looking for. The pleasantries of social etiquette between a student and a professor take place, he wishes you a good weekend, and with a smile you are on your way.

Walking back through the maze, looking at the old floor and walls, you wonder about your encounter. Not that there was anything special about an office visit, just that the feeling of the office was so interesting. The professor is a genius, yet he appears to lock himself up in a solitary cell, not even letting the beautiful and natural outside light into the dark paper-filled office. Curious isn't it? The week before after class, you wished him a good weekend, and he didn't know how to act, it was as if he had never been wished a good weekend before. Today he wished you a good weekend. There must be a person with feelings buried beneath the mounds of mathematical formulae. Perhaps there is more to college than just you being a student and a professor being a professor. Both are people with feelings. In the past, you may have had the expectation that a professor treats you as a person, yet you hadn't taken the time to treat them the same way. An interesting thought. Perhaps, the great mistake is that students don't go to the offices so that professors and students can know each other as people with names, concerns, and feelings.

As I left the old math building, I wondered why in the past I had always been so afraid of the offices, when in reality, the offices seem to bridge the gap between the cold realities of study, and the deeply personal topic of learning.

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