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Monika Havelka
Monika Havelka. Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth

An Apple for Teacher? How Quaint

Some U of T students go out of their way to express how much they appreciate their favourite prof

Three plastic horses prance next to Monika Havelka’s computer. A nearby shelf proudly displays an antler from a white-tailed deer. And what’s that? A bone?

“My students give me all sorts of things,” says Havelka, a biology lecturer at U of T Mississauga. “One person gave me a scute from a turtle shell, another a shell necklace.” But what says “You’re a great biology teacher” better than the gift of a bone from a dead raccoon?

Some U of T students go out of their way to express how much they appreciate their favourite prof. Havelka has thumbtacked a slew of student thank-you notes to her bulletin board, and one undergrad baked Havelka a gooey chocolate cake.

A more modern act of admiration is to set up a Facebook page for your venerated prof. Fans of English professor Nick Mount started an “I Heart Nick Mount” page. “I’m of course very flattered,” says Mount, adding that he hasn’t visited the Facebook page. “I don’t want to eavesdrop on student conversations outside the domain of my courses.”

Adoring students also set up a Facebook page for Shafique Virani. The Islamic Studies prof keeps in touch with his former students, some of whom say that taking a course with him transformed their life. For these students, gratitude knows no limits. One previous student gave Virani the privilege of naming her firstborn. (Virani and the couple decided to call the little girl Reyha.) Another previous pupil asked Virani to be the best man at his wedding. “You changed my life,” he told Virani.

Virani would have gladly agreed to be the student’s best man if he hadn’t been living outside Canada at the time. Still, Virani shared in the wedding as much as he could. “I was on the phone with him and his fiancée constantly, and spoke with the groom while he was in the car on the way to the wedding.”

“I absolutely adore my students, so the sentiment of respect and affection is mutual,” Virani continues. “It’s amazing to know that I played a role in my students’ lives, just as they’ve played a role in making me who I am.”

For Clare Hasenkampf – a biology professor and director of Centre for Teaching & Learning at U of T Scarborough, who just won a 3M National Teaching Fellowship – the best gestures are the personal visits – “in which a student comes by to say what he or she’s going to do after graduation and tell me how I influenced him or her.” Maybe the gifts that you can’t hold in your hands are the most tangible.

Do you have your own story about an unusual gift for a special prof? Tell us using the comments box below!

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  1. One Response to “ An Apple for Teacher? How Quaint ”

  2. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    The U of T Medical School class of 1954 created an award for most popular professor. An ordinary ditchdigger's shovel was chrome-plated and inscribed appropriately to the professor who could shovel it out with the most style, and of course with the greatest effectiveness.

    The first recipient was Professor of Therapeutics, K.J.R. ("Cager") Wightman.

    At our 50th class reunion, I was delighted to see the graduating students of the Class of 2004 present the award of the "Silver Shovel" to the professor they deemed most worthy. The tradition has continued without interruption for over 50 years.

    Dr. Joe Wagner
    MD 1954
    Los Angeles