Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Kindness and Support
A couple weeks ago, I checked Facebook in the morning. I discovered I’d been tagged in a post on the University of Akron Alumni Association’s page. A former student wrote that I was his favorite teacher at UAkron, that he liked the way I let students get to know me, that he incorporated some of my teaching practices in his own teaching, and that I had sent him and his wife a wedding gift, even though I no longer live in Ohio. Some other students included their own positive comments beneath the post.
I sat and cried for a while, because although I don’t teach in order to get praise, I also don’t give myself much credit for the things I do and, in fact, I’d allowed some (unusually for me) negative course evaluations a few semesters ago to make me feel discouraged. (Isn’t that a silly thing that many of us do, we neglect the praise we get and focus upon the criticism?) When a dear friend called that morning toward noon for another reason, I was still verklempt, and she told me the same thing: I don’t give myself enough credit. Nevertheless, it’s wonderful---a wonderful act of kindness---when someone confirms that our work has, indeed, influenced other people.
All of us do fail many, many times to influence others in positive ways, and my own failures have spurred me to do better. Years ago, I attended a small Christian college. My positive experiences there influenced me to seek a deeper religious faith and become a professor of undergrads, among other wonderful things. But I did have three or four professors who I thought were very arrogant; one yelled at me in front of a large group, and another prof was witheringly critical of the work I submitted. My wife’s first husband, with whom I attended the same school, had a hurtful experience with another prof. For my own situation, I should’ve done two things at the time, which is to deal in some constructive, immediate way with the hurt I felt, and also to not let the hurt seep so deeply into my self-image. Again: sometimes we nurse hurts, as if we didn’t really want to accentuate the positive.
The benefit of that experience of mine was to become a certain kind of professor, one who tries to make some kind of appropriate, personal connection to students so that they know---within the professional relationship of student and teacher---that I care about their well being, as I felt that my primary professors at my college cared about me. When my wife Beth and I were still at UAkron, I got in the habit of sending graduation cards to students I’d had in class. One year the cost of cards and stamps was nearly $100, but that didn’t matter. Thanks to Facebook, I get to follow students careers and marriages, and I do send cards and gift cards to them on their special occasions.
I’ve used the first-person pronoun way too much in this post, because my main point is not about me but all of us: to whom can we show kindness and support to people? How can we “make time” amid our very busy schedules to be a potential blessing to others? Who might carry our harsh words in their hearts for many years, but who might carry our kind words and actions for years? Perhaps our words and actions could even be something they’d hold onto through rough times.