The Formidable Dr. William F. Naufftus vs. The Helicopter Parent

The Formidable Dr. William F. Naufftus vs. The Helicopter Parent: something I would like to see.

Dr. Naufftus was a professor I had for English my freshman year of college at Winthrop University. He was a formidable but brilliant man. I had the great misfortune of having selected English as my major coupled with a lofty goal of graduating with an honors degree via the Honors College. This put me in the unique position of having 2 English classes as a first-semester student: a writing course and an honors literature course. Dr. Naufftus taught the honors literature class.

It was a small class. Most at Winthrop were, but this was a particularly small class because it was an honors literature class for freshman, and there weren’t that many students willing to jump into that boat–and soon most of us were trying to jump off. We had quizzes at the beginning of every class. Which is to say we failed quizzes at the beginning of every class. Once, after glancing over our woefully inadequate responses, he looked at us disapprovingly and declared: “I don’t know how you people even got into college much less qualified for an honors class!” He was often disgusted by our general stupidity.  Midway through the semester, I was convinced I should change my major, but my academic adviser, the ever-patient Dr. Jo Koster, talked me out of it. But, still, I was fairly convinced I didn’t have the smarts to be an English major.

I complained about that class every day. I pored over my book every night, hoping I’d be able to answer at least one question on one of those quizzes. Fat chance. There was also a fat chance my parents would be calling him to discuss it. Because I didn’t have helicopter parents.  I’m pretty sure none of my classmates did either. We were adults. We were in college. We fought our own battles.

I have no idea if a parent has ever dared call Dr. Naufftus, nor do I know for sure what he would say if one did. But I like to imagine that if a helicopter parent called Dr. Naufftus to complain, he would say something to this effect: “Teaching your daughter is akin to casting pearls before swine.” And then hang up. (I say this because that’s what he told us in class one day.)

And if he did, he would be my hero.

For the record, I ended up getting an A in the class–and it meant all that much more.

Do you know about my disclaimer?


Filed under Higher Ed, My Opinion, Teaching & Learning

3 responses to “The Formidable Dr. William F. Naufftus vs. The Helicopter Parent

  1. Dear Dr. Naufftus was one of my mentors at Winthrop, and he taught me, possibly more than any of my other mentors, to be responsible for myself: to know myself and my ambitions and my limitations. I can only imagine the class you had with him because I had many too. I learned through his, and many others’, classes to be responsible for my own learning and actions. Oh, man. Early in my career at Winthrop, I got a B on an assignment that I was disappointed in (I am/was/always will be (?) an overachiever), and anyway, I said the dreaded words “why did you give me a B?” And that professor reeled on me and said “I didn’t give you a B. You EARNED one.” To this day I remember that. And I tell my students that story. It’s not about getting. It’s about earning. Well, duh. So, anyway.

  2. I always tell this story to my students, too, as I try to impress upon them the importance of accepting responsibility for their own education and learning. I had to relearn what it meant to “read” a text. I had to learn to analyze, not summarize, and I had to learn new, more effective study habits–ones that consumed a lot more of my time! And these are lessons my students need to learn as well. It seems to get harder every year, though, to get that message across to them–and now, more and ore often, their parents!

  3. Janet Harkins Utman

    I had the privilege of having several classes with “Mr. Naufftus” at UNCGreensboro. I was heartbroken when he moved on to Winthrop–hoping he would be my advisor. He was my favorite professor as an English major. I am glad Winthrop College valued him.

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