I'm trying to get this paragraph

Remembering what it was like not to be who we are now is vital to our growth and integrity. The best professors remain friends with their past. They remember what it was like not to know about their special topic – and so don’t talk over the heads of their students.

  1. what "remain friends" means?
  2. their past = the best professors' past?
  3. The last sentence = They don't talk over their students' head because they remember the period they also did not know about many topics?

4 Answers 4


Well, "remain friends" means that they keep on being friends. "their past" refers to the life when they were young, when they were students. They are friends with this past: they remember, they respect, they care for their past, and they do what friends do with their past. You got the last sentence correctly. It means that they remember their youth and how hard it was and so they, now having grown up, understand the young students.

  • 1
    I absolutely agree, Alexander. I have upvoted your answer.
    – Nick
    Nov 23, 2017 at 7:06
  • 5
    It means to use language that his students wouldn't understand. For instance, if he started using big words or technical words, the students wouldn't know what he is talking about and would learn nothing. In other words, he shouldn't talk to his students as if they were experts in the field that he is talking about.
    – Nick
    Nov 23, 2017 at 7:16
  • 1
    @NicholasCastagnola our awful teachers at school constantly did that to us. Still can't get used to speaking technical whereas simple words read better and let understand anything easier. Nov 23, 2017 at 7:19
  • 1
    I've always tried not to use big words unless I should be writing a paper for a class because I figure I'll get a better grade if I use some fancy words. I always throw in a few fancy words and literary devices to make the paper appealing.
    – Nick
    Nov 23, 2017 at 7:26
  • 3
    Some people write or speak with the goal of conveying information to the audience as clearly as possible. Other people write with the goal of impressing the audience with how smart they must be to understand this difficult subject. The first group consider their communication a success if the student walks away saying, "I get it. That makes sense. This subject isn't so hard once you get into it." The second group consider their communication a success if the student walks away shaking his head sadly and saying, "I'll never understand this."
    – Jay
    Nov 23, 2017 at 10:57

Several good answers that I won't rehash, so let me just add one clarification in case you're confused on this point.

The writer talks about the professor "remaining friends" with "his past" as a metaphor. Normally we talk about remaining friends with a person. "Bob and I met in high school, and we have remained friends for 30 years." But here he is talking about the professor being a friend to his own past. The point is not that the professor is friends with the students. He might or might not, that's not the point. He is friends with his own past self and experiences.

  • 2
    Moreover, in this case, remaining friends with a professor's own past can help that professor relate to their students better. Such professors remember what it’s like to be on the other side of the lecture.
    – J.R.
    Nov 23, 2017 at 11:22
  • The teachers remember their past as one of their friends so that they could better empathize with how their students feel. What I get is right?
    – Plai
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:15
  • @Plai Short answer: Yes.
    – Jay
    Nov 25, 2017 at 5:56

Here as mentioned in answers above, remain friends means remembering how it was when they lacked the adept understanding of the topic. In this context, the writer intends to convey that a good professor loves to assist and appreciates others to learn in the area of his expertise and does not demotivate if a concept is hard to grasp. Often, if a student faces difficulty in a topic, professors act fed-up after explaining a couple of times and behave a little rudely while reiterating and also when the student asks complex counter-questions which kills the student's craving for the knowledge and understanding and the latter resort to cramming instead.


It's interesting how different people interpret it. To me "remain friends" in the context just means comfortable with their past. But in the next sentence you see the writer also means a condition where they can make use of their past.

  • Welcome to the site! It sounds like you have a pretty solid answer here, but you are sharing it in a complex way. Consider splitting your answer up into simple responses to #1, #2, and #3 to help people learning English understand your meaning more quickly. Thanks for contributing!
    – user11628
    Nov 24, 2017 at 1:16

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