General Education

Robyn Scott on Oliver Sacks and Her Emotional Connection to Her Students

Robyn Scott on Oliver Sacks and Her Emotional Connection to Her Students
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Robyn Scott June 30, 2015

Noodle Expert Robyn Scott shares her love of Oliver Sacks and discusses the emotional connection she feels to the students she tutors.

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Noodle Expert Robyn Scott shares her love of Oliver Sacks and discusses the emotional connection she feels to the students she tutors.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

I was always fascinated by Oliver Sacks after reading his book “An Anthropologist on Mars” in high school. I found the case studies in the book to be strangely unique and fascinating, but also easy to empathize with as a young person. Many of the issues addressed in this book helped me see how interesting the human mind is and realize that there are many different types of people. I also learned that we, as a society, have so much left to learn about the brain and its functions. After learning about Dr. Sacks, I looked into his life’s work and thought that he would have an amazing amount of information to share. Having him as a teacher for a year back in high school (or at any point in my education) would have provided one of the most enriching and eye-opening set of courses!

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

One of my advisors in college told me “education is not just about the completion of tasks.” This piece of advice has resonated with me ever since. I think, in today’s world of testing and achievement-based learning, students often forget to enjoy the moment. There’s so much about college (and life after) that we often look back on and think “I wish I had enjoyed the overall experience more.” This small piece of advice reinforced that a healthy and happy education, as well as an enjoyable life experience, is more than just completing things but also about relishing in those achievements and enjoying time with friends and family.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

Assuming that the student was from the United States and that she only spoke English, I would send her to a small or medium-sized town in the United Kingdom. I think that the U.K. is a fabulous first travel abroad experience for young Americans who want to begin to expand their horizons. The U.K. is similar enough to the U.S. that a new traveler would be able to get around by herself and get to know the local people who speak the same language. At the same time, the U.S. and U.K. cultures are also diverse enough that a U.S. traveler would learn a lot about new people, cultures, and lifestyles during her experience.

The reason I would send a new traveler to a smaller town is that it would represent more of an “everyday” international experience. Although London and Edinburgh are fantastic cities with fabulous arts and culture, many new travelers flock to urban environments only to find that they are overwhelmed with transportation issues and high travel expenses. Smaller towns in the U.K. tend to offer a more personal experience because there are less tourists, and locals generally offer interesting conversation and a warm welcome to the United Kingdom.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

When I was in elementary school, I took a standardized science test and, not realizing its importance, I filled in all the bubbles so that I could go play at recess. In my defense, students who finished early got to play outside and my chair with facing the window. Unfortunately, my lack of delayed gratification resulted in academic consequences. Later on, I learned that it’s important to take standardized exams seriously and I like to pass that on to my current students. I also learned, however, that it’s important to have a study-life balance where students don’t feel they have to rush through something to get to their coveted free time. If enough social and outdoor time is provided, students are more likely to concentrate and take their academic tasks seriously during time dedicated to education.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

As a student, I always liked learning but I didn’t always like school. I had some fabulous teachers and some great experiences, but I also had to cope with some very stressful issues while prepping for college. I felt learning should be more than just what we experience in the classroom and that the teen years don’t have to be anywhere near as stressful as we make them. Regardless of the particular subject matter (history, art, philosophy, test prep), I wanted to share everything there is to learn about the world with other people. This led me to work as a teacher and tutor.

One of the things that I didn’t expect about my particular field is how emotional it can be. For instance, if one of my students calls to let me know she received a full scholarship to college, I feel overwhelmed with joy. On the other hand, if one of my students informs me that, despite her very best efforts, she failed a life-changing exam, I feel stress and sadness for her struggle. After talking with many of my colleagues over the years, I learned that this is not at all uncommon for an educator and that, although these emotions have to be managed, a truly invested teacher is going to be a great one.


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