My (Prof)essional Opinion

Best thing about going to a small liberal arts school like Whitman? Knowing your professors… and then getting paid to know them. If this isn’t a serious plug for attending a school like Whitman, I don’t know what is. But here, let me explain what I mean.

I am a singer and, upon discovering the existence of the Chorale group here, I auditioned and now get to sing three times a week with a fabulous group of students lead by a fabulous choral director, Professor Riikka Pietilainen-Caffrey. During my audition, I did not realize my professor was Finnish until I examined her name a bit more carefully and thence inquired as to her nationality. Her answer of “Finnish” absolutely elated me, given it is my pride and joy country, the host land in which I lived for 10 months as an exchange student. I had finally found someone with whom I could speak the absurd, unnecessarily difficult, 13 noun case elvish language which I was able to pick up most of during my time there. After engaging in some Finnish small talk, Professor Caffrey suggested the idea of me babysitting her 2 year old son, Henry, sometime. I replied that “yeah, hey, that sounds like a fun idea”; I was pretty dubious as to that actually happening though, as I was pretty unfamiliar at that point with students having any social interaction with professors unrelated to their taught subject. So, I didn’t really make anything of it other than her being nice and suggesting hypothetical situations.

But boy was I mistaken! That suggestion was anything but hypothetical. Later that week, I received a text from my professor asking if I could babysit Henry for a couple hours in her office. I, genuinely surprised and delighted that she had followed through with this babysitting idea, immediately replied with “Kyllä, tottakai!” (“Yes, of course!”).

Ever since then, I’ve been babysitting little Henry for a few hours every week. I have to say it is the best job I have ever had (and I don’t mean superlatives lightly!). Not only do I get to practice and keep up my Finnish, but I also get to help Henry learn English. He speaks a bit of both languages right now, and I try to teach him a few words each time I see him. As I was leaving at the end of our last session, he said “thanks for playing with me!” and his mother and I were absolutely ecstatic. It’s such a rewarding feeling knowing that I’m not only bringing joy to this little kid, but also that I may be contributing to his English education.

It’s also a rewarding feeling knowing I’m helping out my professor by giving her a few hours each week to relax and do the things she needs to do. Whether it’s a church choir meeting, walking her dog, or swimming at the pool, Professor Caffrey has things she needs to make time for and I love being able to aid her in her accomplishment of these things. I feel I have a stronger connection with my professor because of this opportunity, and thus consider her more of a friend at this point than someone who gives me a letter grade. Being on a friendly basis with a professor can not only make them less intimidating, but can also make you more comfortable and allow you to do well overall in their class. Being at Whitman has made me more and more comfortable approaching my professors outside of class, which I think is a very valuable skill to possess. Go talk to them regularly if you don’t already; professors may seem slightly scary, perfect, laid back adults who have their lives together, but sometimes they can be just as stressed out as the rest of us.

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