When a student at Georgia Gwinnett College couldn’t find a replacement babysitter in time for her anatomy and physiology class earlier this month, she did what student-parents sometimes have to do – she brought her child to class with her.
Ramata Sissoko Cisse, an assistant professor of biology for anatomy and physiology, had scheduled an important lecture for that day. It focused on the integumentary system — the organ system comprised of the skin, hair, nails and glands. For Cisse, the lecture went beyond biology.
Cisse said she wanted her student to focus on the meaning of the lecture, a task often difficult in a three-hour class, but made even more challenging when notetaking has to be balanced with holding a child.
So Cisse told the student to hand her the child. She would hold him so that the student could just pay attention. Cisse, a mother of three, said she raised her children at the same time she attended graduate school.
“I just wanted her to be a student, a normal young student in the class,” Cisse said. “I didn’t want her to think about the baby.”
“I wanted the student to have a little break.”
Cisse carried the child for the entirety of the lecture, fashioning a sling out of a white lab jacket to hold him on her back, freeing her hands to write on the whiteboard. The child fell asleep almost immediately, Cisse said.
Such compassion is present in all people, Cisse said — just that, sometimes, it needs a bit of coaxing.
“I think the job of an educator is to give you the belief in yourself, to trust yourself and to get it out of you,” Cisse said. “So my job is to show them you have it already, you have what it takes to give to the world.”
Cisse said the child provided a helpful teaching aid during her lecture. When it came time to feed the child, Cisse said she took a moment to explain metabolism.
“The mom gave me the milk, but it was kind of cold. So I told the mommy to warm it a little bit, to be his body temperature. And they said, ‘Why does it have to be warm?’, and I said it has to be his body temperature so that when he drinks the milk, he’s not spending too much energy to warm up the milk.”
“Energy is very important. The baby needs to grow. The taking, anabolism, and the breaking, catabolism, of nutrients coming into your body.”
Cisse said she even managed to touch upon the nervous system’s ability of recall, especially in a baby’s brain.
“I told them, everything I’m telling you now, he can hear me. He may not understand what I’m saying, but one day he can grow up and be like, ‘I heard this before!'”
While Cisse was teaching, she said the baby would nod when she would go over an important fact, as if giving his tiny stamp of approval to the lecture.
One of the students snapped a photo of the duo, which Cisse’s daughter posted on Twitter, where it went viral.
Viral moments are, in their nature, fleeting. Cisse said that, in the time she has, before this moment fades and another one comes into the spotlight, she wants to impart a simple message to students.
“I want to make sure young people understand that we are here for them. We are here to support, to nurture, to guide, to love, to inspire, to teach, we are here for that. So I don’t want them to give up on us. We’re here. We take them very seriously.”
Alexander Tuerk is an intern at Here and Now.