We already know that teaching is a rewarding profession, but some days are better than others. If only more students knew how gratifying it is to hear that we have made a difference in their lives!
I had an email exchange last week with Patricia, a student who took my nonmajors biology class in spring of 2007. Informally I was a mentor to her, and she wrote to say thanks. She said, “Frankly, learning how to make real effort was a big first step and I’m grateful for the way that your guidance brought me to a place where I could identify and face my fear of hard work.” I found that last phrase intriguing, because every semester I have students who say they want to do better, and they know what they ought to be doing (not least because I constantly remind them), yet they don’t take the necessary actions. I don’t know quite how to reach those students, so I asked Patricia to elaborate.
She said, “… though the words I needed were in my head, they didn’t hit home yet. I know that I pursued only that which I had natural talent for so that I would have ample success with minimal effort and would change direction when a challenge rose in front of me.” I really like the way she articulated this thought. In fact, I see evidence of this behavior when students keep practicing skills they have already mastered (“I love Punnett squares!”) as a way to avoid the material they don’t know (“I hope she doesn’t ask about transcription on exam 2!”)
I have been thinking of showing this quote to my current students, especially the ones who seem motivated yet unable to make needed changes. But will they be ready to hear it? Patricia herself acknowledges that the words of wisdom from her supportive family and friends, and from me, were already in her head. She continued, “I wish I had been willing to be fully self-evaluative, honest with myself about the assessment, authentic with others to benefit from their help, and humble enough to make the change.”
Ah well, even if all of your words of encouragement seem to fall on deaf ears today, you never know when your kindness and supportive honesty will make a difference in someone’s life. The occasional, profoundly rewarding words of thanks, such as those I received last week from Patricia, are a wonderful reminder that the work we do really is important.