Bennett Lorber '64
I am a teacher. I didn't set out to be one, but of all my professional activities in academic medicine-including caring for patients, performing research investigations, and writing scholarly papers-it is teaching that has brought me the greatest stimulation, satisfaction, pleasure, and pure joy. My path to teaching began at Swarthmore, but it wasn't my idea.
During my junior year, I took Invertebrate Zoology with Professor Norman Meinkoth. He was organized, erudite, meticulous, and clear. He could lecture while simultaneously drawing complex illustrations on the board with amazing speed. He often had a little grin, and a twinkle in his eye, which made me think he knew some special secret the rest of us could never share. He was completely without pretense and had a good sense of humor; both of these qualities are reflected in the unconventional last word of the title he picked for his book: The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Seashore Creatures. Like most of my Swarthmore teachers, he assigned readings for his classes as though his was the only class we were taking. His expectations were high, and we admired him so much that we strove to meet them.
One of the course requirements was that each student had to give a formal presentation to the class, and one morning, with a lot of anxiety, I gave mine. Later that day, as I was crossing the campus, I heard my name called. I turned to find Professor Meinkoth walking toward me. He approached, put his hand on my shoulder, and said: "I know you're planning to go to medical school, but I hope that, whatever you do in medicine, you will make time for teaching. You have a gift for it." I muttered an embarrassed thank you, and we parted. Twelve years later, after medical school, residency, fellowship in infectious diseases, and two years as a medical school faculty member, I received an award for teaching. About a month later, I got a postcard on which was written: "I remember telling you in Invertebrates you should be a teacher. Congratulations! Norm."
I had several great teachers at Swarthmore, and their lessons have been invaluable. From them, I learned how to ask a question and to question authority. I learned how to present and respect a good argument. I learned to speak up when confronted by injustice and unfairness. I learned the excitement that can come from learning and the educational value of a good story. And I learned the importance of a kind word passed from teacher to student.
When I think back on the best educational experiences in Swarthmore classrooms, the subjects are inseparable from the teachers: Aesthetics with Beardsley, American Literature with Hoffman, English Literature with Hynes, Invertebrate Zoology with Meinkoth, Greek Literature in Translation with North, Neurophysiology with Rawson, Design in Drawing and Painting with Rhys, Medieval Art with Williams.
My Swarthmore professors have been the models I've drawn on to develop my own pedagogic methods and style. To this day, they provide inspiration and guidance. On occasion, when called upon to give a lecture that I've given many times, I think about making it easy on myself and giving the same talk I gave last time. But then I remind myself that Meinkoth never took shortcuts or the expedient path, and I work to make the talk new and fresh.
Fifteen years after my graduation, I attended a dinner at the College in honor of Norman Meinkoth, who had spent his entire professional life at Swarthmore and served on the faculty for 31 years. The room was filled with well-wishers, almost all of them former students. Several had achieved great distinction in the world of biology. All had been pushed, nurtured, and encouraged by Norm. After dinner, former students representing the span of his career offered wonderful reminiscences. At the end of the evening, Norm was told he could have the last word and was asked if there was anything he'd like to say. He replied: "Just this. When I was finishing my graduate-school work, my adviser called me to his office and said: Norm, you're a bright boy, but you're no genius. If you're smart, you'll get a job at a good college and stick with it.' Well, I did it, and I'm glad." So am I.
Bennett Lorber, an authority on anaerobic infections and food-borne diseases, is chief of the Section of Infectious Diseases at Temple University School of Medicine and Hospital.