If You've Never Had a Course That's Taken Your Measure
Thirty-nine years old, long-married, father of five children and there I stood, tears welling up in my eyes. No, it wasn’t a family tragedy. My wife loved me, our children were all healthy, our parents were still alive and doing well. But not me. My world was crashing around me. I had been studying, taking exams and writing term papers for the past two years, working toward my goal of earning a Ph.D. in Education so that I could become a college professor. I was now in the final semester of my course work. My dissertation was well underway and I was already imagining the moment when my advisor would place that coveted cowl on my shoulders. Like a schoolgirl with a crush I had practiced signing my name as “Dr. Carriker,” relishing how it looked.
Despite a significant weakness in my mathematical abilities (I actually “suffer” from dyscalculia.) I had taken and passed with solid “A’s, “two courses in statistics and one in “Tests and Measurement.” The last hurdle in that sequence of courses was a class called “Experimental Research Design.” This was a course intended to equip a person to design research studies in the general field of Education. I had already gotten acquainted with the professor, Dr. John T. Roscoe, and found him to be talented as a teacher; rigorous but fair.
The research designs in the beginning of the course were easy to understand: simple “one control group” contrasted to an “one experimental group.” But after a few weeks a fog like that the poet Carl Sandberg described, “crept into my mind on little cat feet” and began clouding it. I learned that simple “control” vs. “experimental” studies were the stuff of “kindergarten” research. We were now in a murky mist of nested designs, multiple regressions, analyses of covariance with multiple groups, and the like. To understand them required an ability to think very abstractly and ponder over multiple cause-effect relationships. I began floundering. It was one of those situations in which I understood the meaning of every word I read or heard, taken individually, but when combined in sentences they became gibberish.
I began worrying. To earn the degree, I had to pass every course with at least a “C,” and more than one of those would make it questionable. There were no second chances. Fail, and all the hard work, student loans, and grades were for nothing. As I became increasingly confused, I went to Dr. Roscoe’s office hoping for some clarification or “magic pill.” My problem was – I was so befuddled by the content that I couldn’t even ask a sensible question. After listening to me stammer and mouth confusing sentences for a few moments, Dr. Roscoe SLAMMED the textbook shut and said, “Mr. Carriker, when you can formulate an intelligent question come back and see me.” I left, stunned and frightened with visions of two years of hard work and expense swirling down the drain. There would be no “magic pill,” If I wanted an answer I was going to have to study enough to put into words exactly what I didn’t understand. It was no easy task, but I managed to do it. A few days later I asked intelligent questions and received helpful answers. It was a lesson I’d needed to learn.
I wasn’t yet out of the deep, dark woods, though. As we moved into the final weeks of the course I was absolutely and totally baffled by the designs we were expected to understand and use. I truly saw no hope. In one final gasp of desperation I once again made an appointment with Dr. Roscoe. When I stepped into the office my eyes were moist with tears. I wasn’t faking or trying to use emotion as a plea, I simply couldn’t help it.
I explained to him what I was feeling and was about to ask him what I should do, when he interrupted me as he had when he had slammed the textbook in my face. Only this time he showed just how good a teacher he was. His first words to me I clearly remember. He said, “Mr. Carriker, if you’ve never had a course that has taken your measure, you’ve been deprived.” He went on to tell me that he knew I was struggling, but that I was also genuinely trying to understand the coursework. He ended by saying, “Keep on doing your best. Keep trying and I will not “hurt you.” The meaning of that remark was clear, it needed no elaboration. He would not destroy my hopes and dream.
For the next few weeks I did all I could to do the assignments and studied hard to grasp the content. The semester ended, grades came out, and there – behind my name – was the letter “C.” I had been given a precious gift from a very compassionate teacher. That was 46 years ago. Dr. John T. Roscoe has long since gone to his reward but he lives on in my heart and memory as one of the most talented, compassionate teachers among the dozens of teachers in whose classrooms I have sat. And I have long since forgotten what little I learned about complex research designs but I have not forgotten what was possibly the best thing he taught me. He instilled in me the knowledge that I could not be totally successful in everything I attempted, but that if I never gave up and gave it my best effort, I would never be totally defeated.
Dr.Roscoe: “Requiescat in Pace.” No one deserves that more than you.