Teachers of Influence

I have heard it said that it is at the end of something that you reflect upon the beginning.

As I wrap up my final semester in college, I find that I look back over the professors I had and note certain ones with a warm fondness that is not credited to others.  It may have been the professor that drove me to tears in frustration, or the one whose class I found particularly challenging, or perhaps it was the professor whom I admired for the passion they brought to a subject; no matter the why, they influenced me and the path I took in life.

Teach.com, a website designed to inspire and promote teaching as a career, advises educators to meet their students on multiple levels, not just in academics. According to Teach, “the best teachers are committed to their students’ well-being both inside and outside the classroom.”  Reflecting on this, I am left to wonder if that is what made the difference.  For several of them, the answer would be a resounding “yes”, but there are two that come to mind that I can honestly say I felt no connection but simply a profound respect.

One particular professor instructed me in Biology 101. Though I loved learning, I simply did not grasp the terms and information being received – thus why I am not a science major.  I struggled from day 1 to learn the material, often ending my nights in teary frustration.  I would compare my experience in the class to that of reading Moby-Dick – painful to bear and yet when finished there is a profound sense of accomplishment for staying the course.  I never connected with this professor, though she could be “nice-ish”, I was just out of my element in the science world and intimidated by her intelligence, but she pushed me to do my best, to succeed, even if my success only earned me a “D” in the class.   Because of the experience, I grew.

The other professor that comes to mind if simply found intimidating and a bit snarky.  However, after having to take several of his courses, I slowly began to appreciate not only his humor, but his desire to see his students meet their potential.   One of the best papers I ever turned in was for him and though I felt like a puddle of melted snowflakes every time I sat in his office to work through the essay, I came away with a clearer idea of the direction I wanted to take the writing.   When he retired at the end of the semester I felt a profound sense of sadness.   He was never one that I would simply converse with for fun, but he had pushed me to rise above my own mediocre expectations and to be the academic student he knew I could be.

He was one among several professors who witnessed my long journey to graduate and took genuine interest in my path and in my struggles.  The is a small number of proffessors who have gone above and beyond the pre-concieved ideas of student-teacher relationships by aiding in job searches and even offering prayers during times of tribulations. These were the professors that became like a cherished favorite book in which you cannot pass the bookshelf without running your fingers over the spine – it makes you smile, feel confident, and focused.  It was this small number that influenced my career choice, kept me coming back for more, and made me feel passionate about what I was doing.

Teach explains how teachers can be role models and gives this definition of the term:

A role model is a person who inspires and encourages us to strive for greatness, live to our fullest potential and see the best in ourselves.

Whether it was the intimidating professor, or the one I could call a friend, they all displayed confidence in my ability to succeed even when I did not think I could or would.

The ability to support and instill confidence should not be reserved for just a higher education setting.  We should do this daily for each other – for our kids, for our parents, for friends, and strangers. It is so easy to point out the negative and the flaws, but if you genuinely invested in humanity how can your words have a positive impact?  We should be committed to each other simply because we are all trying to get through this life as best we can; we are all trying to survive the voluminous novel.  Whether we take years to finish, weeks, or only manage to make it half-way, it really doesn’t matter, the thing is to encourage, support, and celebrate every painful step of the journey.

 

“I try all things, I achieve what I can”   -Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

 

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