Satisfaction is the best way I can describe it. When you get that letter, or email, or evaluation where the student says something like, “This class has positively changed how I think.” I had a student write a similar statement in a reflection assignment not too long ago. My first thought was equal parts embarrassment and exhilaration. My next thought was that I hope they weren’t just trying to “butter me up.” Nevertheless, I just took the student at their word. The emotional impact hit me in a one-two punch.
First, elation. Wow, a student thought my class changed their mind!
Second, anxiety. Oh, no! What have I done? Did I change their mind for the better? Don’t get me wrong. I was thankful for being a vessel of change. I was thankful for such a wonderful opportunity. For such a terrifyingly wonderful opportunity.
This moment exposed to me the gravity of what it means to be an educator. As an instructor I really do have an impactful influence over other minds. What an awesome responsibility! What an awesome privilege! As instructors, we have an obligation to give these students our all. They are not peripheral to our mission – they are our mission. We exist to serve them. And we do this by challenging their ways of thinking. We push back against bias and ignorance. We expose poor ideas and present alternative concepts to fill the void. We encourage, exhort, and extol them to do better and to achieve their inherent potential.
As educators we are in a never-ending cycle of preparatory work. We are constantly learning, developing, and sharpening our positions. We make mental notations of what works in lecture and what does not. The next time we cover that subject we try and get it “more right” than we did before. We attend and participate in conferences and workshops ever in search of better, more effective strategies to help our students. We often have long, lonely nights grading or prepping material. Frequently this is done with little-to-no thanks. Perhaps that’s why it is so encouraging when a student seemingly acknowledges all of your hard work – even when it may seem like a throwaway comment at the time.
As educators we understand the importance of shaping the minds of the next generation of students. Our students may not comprehend our sacrifice and dedication; nevertheless, they will base life-altering decisions on what we teach them. They will apply what they learn in our classes. Hence, we need to teach them well. We have the privilege and honor of influencing the next generation of citizens and scholars. Even with the “mid-semester” fatigue setting in and student apathy on the rise, let us continue to be teachers of excellence – guiding students the way we were, or would want to be guided; genuinely caring for them as people of immeasurable worth; shepherding them through the hazardous labyrinth of academia – so that when the time comes they will be able to navigate the rough waters of life.
Ask yourself, what teacher had a profound influence on you? How did their class(es) shape who you became? How different may your life have been had you never crossed their path? Likewise, how do you think you influence your students? What would they say about you if given a dose of “truth serum”? Give them every reason to think of you in the best possible way. I had a professor in seminary that greatly influenced the tenor and path of my own educational journey. He was a brilliant individual who could move effortlessly between hermeneutical theory to metaphysics to philosophical theology and all the while crack jokes to both engage students and illustrate his points. It was really something to behold. And at the end of the day he genuinely cared for his students. He was a striking example of someone who could both effectively communicate profound intellectual notions and nurture students on a more personal level. He not only counseled and encouraged me in pursuing further education, but exemplified the type of teacher – the type of person – I want to be.
For better or worse, teachers wield a tremendous amount of power in the lives of their students. Sure, we want our students not only to grow in knowledge and get better jobs, but we want them to become better people. We want our students to have genuinely fulfilling lives. It is my hope and prayer that we be constantly aware of our motivations. Never forget to put the student’s interest’s first, if for no other reason than this is the high calling of being an educator.
How has a teacher influenced you? What did they do, or how did they act that made such an impact? We would love to see your story in the comments below.