While professors hope they have an impact on their students that lasts after they leave campus, some are fortunate enough to know they have. Take Professor Emeritus of Political Science Tom Millington, who received a letter from Derek Stolp ’69, thanking him for influencing his career as a teacher.
Stolp was a student in Millington’s course on Latin American government and politics 50 years ago. After graduating from Hobart with a degree in economics, he spent 45 years as a math teacher, including 29 years at Milton Academy in Massachusetts. During a teaching workshop, he was asked to consider who had the most impact on his career. That’s when the influence of Millington came to mind. “I appreciated so much what he had done for me,” Stolp says. “I wanted to express my gratitude to him.”
The following is an excerpt from his letter to Millington.
My reason for writing is to thank you for the impact you had upon my own teaching. When I graduated from Hobart in 1969, I went to work at a small boys’ boarding school in Westchester County. Fresh from college with an economics degree and no experience or training in teaching or coaching, I met briefly with the department head one afternoon just before school opened, was handed the textbooks I would use, and was dismissed. I’ll never forget recess after my first disastrous classes when a seventh grader, in coat and tie, approached me as I entered the faculty room and, without malice, merely the irrepressible honesty of a middle school boy, remarked, “Sir, I hear you’re a really bad teacher.”
Indeed I was, but I did improve. And the reason I improved was because I had the example of your teaching to guide me. The course I had most enjoyed at Hobart was yours and the reason was that every class was a discussion, and that your style was open, welcoming and non-judgmental. The secret to effective teaching, as I witnessed it in your class, is always to engage the student in the process of discussion. For 45 years, my students, from seventh grade math through calculus, wrestled with problem-solving through discussions.
After all, it was never just about getting the answer right; it was about creating an argument in support of a conclusion, and convincing others (not just me) that the argument was valid. While your course could easily have been an endless recitation of facts and thousands of pages of reading, you gave us enough to get the conversation going and to stimulate thoughtful analyses. I modeled my own teaching upon that principle, and it served me and my students well.
For myself, and on behalf of my many hundreds of students (the indirect beneficiaries of your teaching), I thank you.
As Stolp reflects upon the impact Millington had on him, he considers whether or not he’s had a similar influence on any of his students — some of whom have themselves gone on to careers in teaching. “I wonder if it will continue to multiply out through the generations,” he says. “I hope it does.”
Millington came to the Colleges in 1966 as an instructor of political science, rising to full professor in 1981. He earned a B.A. from Williams College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. Millington retired in 1997 after more than 30 years of service to the Colleges.