The Sorcerer's Apprentice

By Lee Watkins

One of the strong points of Indian Springs School is the individual attention that often is given to its students, some teachers doing more of this than others. Independent study courses used to be quite common; I don't know if they still are or not. If students expressed an interest in a certain topic, there was a good chance they could get one of the faculty members to teach an elective course on the subject. No baseball team? Well, let's get a sponsor and start one up. I say all this as an introduction to one of the most interesting cases of individual independent work I experienced here at ISS.

A 9th grader arrived on the scene back in the early days of my tenure here. He was enrolled in my chemistry course. After noting his responses on the first day of class, it was apparent to me that he knew a good bit of chemistry. I talked to him after class and found out that a University of Alabama chemistry professor was one of his family's good friends. This friend often visited the home of this student as he was growing up. Being a very brilliant and inquisitive youngster, he would flood the chemistry prof with many questions. Further interrogation of this student proved that, indeed, it would not be a good idea to deal with him in my regular class. So I told him not to come to class until I told him we were having a test.

On the day of the first test, I saw Ben early in the morning and told him to come to class to take the test. He asked what the test was to cover; I answered that he didn't need to know. After looking over his test paper, I found some points that he was a bit weak on. I gave him a college text and told him to read and find out more about the topic that the test question dealt with. This was the start of many meetings with Ben because he would always come to me and say he now understood what he had been asked to look up but that he had come across some other concepts which he didn't quite understand. My response was to give him another college text so that he could find his own answers. This went on for the remainder of the year. Needless to say, by the end of the year, he was years beyond his freshman status.

Later on he became my lab assistant. He referred to himself as "The Sorcerer 's Apprentice." I will never forget Ben Thomas, the help he gave to me and the thrill it was "teaching" him.