Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What is it That We Do For Students That Matters?

I blogged the other day to raise a question of what would a faculty or staff member have to do to be remembered by former students with sufficient fondness and respect that a student would want to come back many years later to pay a visit to convey respect. This blog continues that theme.

I received a message today from a former student that leads me to reflect on “mattering” behaviors. What is it that we do, can do, to let them know they matter? Here is what one of my former students recently wrote me that prompts such reflection:

“I was so fortunate as an undergraduate at X and a graduate student at the University of South Carolina to have professors who really cared about not only their discipline, but their students. You have always stood out from my other USC professors to me; you not only challenged us intellectually (the case study exercise and presentation you assigned our class was the most engaging and rigorous of any of the other assignments I had in any other course), but you also encouraged us as individuals. We knew that you knew us, and that you cared about us. I remember you also took me to lunch after I graduated at the faculty dining room …… and advised me on investing for retirement! So in many ways you've been like a father (a young father!) to me, being someone I could seek both personal and professional advice and support from, and I have greatly valued that.”

When I read this, of course I recalled the student, the outstanding quality of her work, where she had gone to undergraduate school, what I recalled knowing about her family—but I did not remember at all, can’t believe this now, that I took her to lunch, let alone advised her on planning for retirement! But what matters is that this student remembered, and it meant something to this student.

So, you never know what you have done, will do, until you get some reinforcement, specific feedback. I was fortunate, very fortunate, to have taught at a great university where we had a faculty development program for faculty like me to prepare us to teach our University 101 course. And we did have activities in such training to get us to reflect on, understand, and make commitments to communicate to students how they “mattered” to us. I am so glad I did. The best teachers are “made” not “born”. My university “made” me, and the above is one result.

So, what do you do to let your students know they “matter”? I am sure you do all manner of things that you may have no insight at the time that they matter, but they do.

-John N. Gardner

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