Teaching Each Other

Dave Nimmer literally reaches out to a student he's helpingThe first week of class in the fall never fails to provoke a vivid memory of my initiation as a fledgling journalism professor at St. Thomas. I’d left my job as a reporter at WCCO-TV in 1989 to come here, knowing I wanted to be a teacher and suspecting I had a lot to learn.

The opening convocation was in the chapel and Monsignor Terrence Murphy, then the president, introduced and welcomed the new faculty; I was the only one of 29 with a simple bachelor’s degree. The others had their Ph.Ds, wearing gowns adorned with colorful capes signifying their achievement. In my basic black robe, I looked like a sparrow in a flock of cardinals.

I felt just as uneasy in that first News Writing class at 8 a.m. on the second floor in OEC. Eighteen students sat around the horseshoe table looking at me; the hour-long lecture I’d planned took 20 minutes, leaving me to slide, stammer and stumble through the next 40. I was wringing wet when the bell rang.

Fortunately, in the weeks that followed, I began to find my rhythm. We developed a real dialogue in class. I quit preaching. I started listening. I made it clear this was a writing class that aimed higher than learning the inverted pyramid.

I gave an A to one student in that class. She brought me a bouquet of daisies – after I turned in her grade. In the next 11 years, she was the first of hundreds of students whose generous spirits I’ll always recall.

We wound up teaching each other.
Dave Nimmer and Ifrah Jimale

Ifrah Jimale, a 2008 St. Thomas alumna, confers with Dave Nimmer on a paper.