Model Teacher

  • Comments (5)
  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print
  • Text Size A A A

By Brad Gooch '73CC, '86GSAS, from his 2015 memoir Smash Cut, about his life in New York with his boyfriend, film director Howard Brookner '76CC. Gooch, a writer, professor, and former fashion model, was a graduate teaching assistant in Edward Tayler's Shakespeare class at Columbia.

Ted Tayler was a compact cube of a man, tirelessly devoted to maintaining his reputation on campus as an entertaining brainteaser of a professor. He was lecturing one spring afternoon on King Lear to a packed classroom of eighty or a hundred. At some moment in his meditation on the cruel ironies of old age, Tayler looked out at his listeners and said, “You’re all nineteen years old. Not one of you understands what I’m saying. None of you believes he is going to die.” His voice cracked. I’d heard the same lecture as an undergrad and caught the same crack in the voice, the gazing out into the lecture hall, the poignant breaking of the fourth wall, but the studied repetition did not detract from the melodrama. (The only other lecturer in Columbia’s English Department who commanded rapt student awe was Edward Said, who wore dark-­blue tailored suits and used the word “power” dozens of times in each lecture. I’d once snarkily counted.)

  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print
Log in with your UNI to post a comment

Comments

I think the two who commented before me are overly sensitive. Mr. Tayler was surely "a cube of a man" in terms of physical appearance. Every part of him brought to mind squareness in the physical sense - head, jaw, body. I do not believe the author is saying this in a disparaging way. Regarding the description of Mr. Tayler's lecture, I too felt that Tayler was a performer -- so much so that he sucked the joy out of Shakespeare for me. I had learned to love Shakespeare at an early age through the efforts of my mother, who took her three kids to his plays and to visit Stratford-Upon-Avon the year we attended elementary school in Europe. I completely lost interest during Mr. Tayler's course. When I saw Mr. Tayler on Charlie Rose years later, he spoke so enthusiastically about Shakespeare that it left me wondering why he didn't let this natural enthusiasm show during class, instead of putting on his performance.

“Such welcome and unwelcome things at once
’Tis hard to reconcile.”

Your reprinting of a sarcasm-laced selection of Brad Gooch’s book under what I imagine was your own title of “Model Teacher” undercut that title in ways you apparently failed to see. I too was a teaching assistant for Professor Tayler’s Shakespeare course, which I also had previously attended as a graduate student for two full years, never missing a class. I was there when Mr. Gooch was in the department, though I knew him only by sight. I’d like to correct the willful mischaracterizations of the selection you chose to publish.

Mr. Gooch’s slanderous statement that Professor Tayler tirelessly promoted his own reputation made it sound like he wore a self-praising placard on his back. In fact Ted Tayler earned his reputation the way Shakespeare earned his: Gentle Will did it by continuing to write great play after great play. Professor Tayler did it by continuing year after year to demonstrate his care and compassion for his students, as well as teaching the best course at Columbia, one that called on students to see the great plays as informing the choices they would be called on to make in their own lives.

Professor Tayler turned 400-year-old dramas, opaque in many places to modern readers, into fully accessible moving experiences, none more so, ironically enough, than the lectures about King Lear that Mr. Gooch seems to think were a sort of rehearsed stunt for melodramatic effect. But for those of us with ears to hear, at those moments he transformed a non-descript Hamilton Hall classroom into a cathedral. When under the spell of the greatest play in our language, he looked out on the faces of his students, many of whom he knew would participate in tragedies of their own some day, in part because they wouldn’t learn from what might be their last exposure to Shakespeare’s tragic vision, it was his compassion for their future sufferings that made his voice crack. What he imparted to his class was a species of love, what the Greeks called agape, something rare in a teacher. To the countless number of students who received it, the emotion we’ll feel the rest of our lives toward Edward W. Tayler is a profound gratitude.

If the lines you published are the remembrances Mr. Gooch summons up to his own sessions of sweet silent thought, he’s welcome to them. But for Columbia to publish them is most foul, strange and unnatural. It’s too bad Mr. Gooch didn’t learn from his apprenticeship with Professor Tayler how to tell the difference between true emotion and melodrama. If he’d spent less time “snarkily” counting inconsequential things instead of opening his spirit to the wisdom so lovingly passed on to him, he could have counted a rare blessing. To return to my opening quotation from Macbeth, sometimes when two things are hard to reconcile, it’s because one of them is downright false.

Kyle Freeman
GSAS ’78 – ’86

What an oddly off description of a legend. For someone so well trained in the choice of words to call Professor Edward Tayler (Lionel Trilling Professor and a driving force of the Department of English and Comp. Lit. for decades) a "cube of a man," begs the reader to wonder about the writer's questionable motives.

It is wise to look in the mirror before casting shadows on others, so I take it the writer never repeats effective teaching in his own career. It is sad that one cannot tell if this is an homage or something less flattering, which is the author's failure, not the subject's.

Professor Tayler deserves no such ambiguity. He has inspired, led, educated, cultivated, and supported many a student brilliantly. He has shared himself candidly and generously, so this is hardly a way to thank or pay tribute to him and his devotion.

Perhaps the author can try again because, among his many wonderful traits, Ted Tayler has a great sense of humor and is forgiving.

What an oddly off description of a legend. For someone so well trained in the choice of words to call Professor Edward Tayler (Lionel Trilling Professor and a driving force of the Department of English and Comp. Lit. for decades) a "cube of a man," begs the reader to wonder about the writer's questionable motives.

It is wise to look in the mirror before casting shadows on others, so I take it the writer never repeats effective teaching in his own career. It is sad that one cannot tell if this is an homage or something less flattering, which is the author's failure, not the subject's.

Professor Tayler deserves no such ambiguity. He has inspired, led, educated, cultivated, and supported many a student brilliantly. He has shared himself candidly and generously, so this is hardly a way to thank or pay tribute to him and his devotion.

Perhaps the author can try again because, among his many wonderful traits, Ted Tayler has a great sense of humor and is forgiving.

Thank you so much for your feedback. With your permission, we would like to publish your letter our next issue. Please kindly send your contact information to ls2917@columbia.edu.

The best stories wherever you go on the Columbia Magazine App

Maybe next time