Last week I was talking to one of my grad students on zoom because she had missed the deadline to submit a homework assignment. As I was listening without speaking the student proceeded to tell me everything that happened to her and the reasons behind this. I hadn’t had the opportunity to turn the video on and as I listened to the student I decided not to. The student was super nervous, and I did not want to add to it by showing up on her computer screen, but I could hear her voice. She was upset and worried. Not adding the video actually made me listen to the student more carefully because there was no video to distract me.
As I am sitting there, I am thinking why is the student so upset? I haven’t even spoken yet. Once the student finished explaining I asked so, “What can I do for you?” The student was so anxious she couldn’t bring herself to actually ask for permission to complete the work she had missed. So, I had to nudge her along. Finally, I decided to put her out of her misery and give her permission to submit the late homework. Now, this is not an undergrad that just forgot or procrastinated to do her work. This is a graduate student in the MBA program. The majority of these students are working professionals, type A with extremely driven and determined personalities.
While I was talking the grad student, stunned by the fact that I gave her a chance, kept thanking me for understanding and being flexible because her other professor had said no even though the student had a good reason for being late. I cannot of course talk about the particulars of the student’s reasons because of FERPA laws and protecting my student’s privacy nor are they important.
Once the zoom call was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Not because this is my first time talking to a student who is asking for an extension for a homework assignment. After 16 years of teaching at UMB, I have had numerous encounters with students, especially because I teach the dreaded business communications courses that all undergrads need to take in the College of Management in order to graduate.
The thing I was thinking about how as educators we have a lot of power over our students. We teach them all of these courses and try to transfer our excitement and love for the topic we spent years learning about. I have spent about 8 years in higher ed just learning with multiple professors. They were all great and brought their experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm to the classroom, but the majority were distant and unapproachable. Of course, you don’t realize it until you meet the one professor that will change everything for you. For me it was, Pepi Leistyna he was everything a true educator should be, passionate, kind-hearted, and welcoming. As a student, I never felt worried about going to his office. It always felt like chatting to a friend, not my professor.
So, as I kept thinking about my student and I was wondering about how I can positively and negatively impact a person’s life with one yes or one no. Then I was reflecting on all of the work we as educators put into a course. If we spend all this time envisioning, researching, designing, and teaching courses, why can’t we include compassion, kindness, and grace as part of our teaching practice as well? Who says we need to be distant, cold, and closed up in order to teach? Why do people need to be scared to ask for an extension to a homework assignment? That’s not how education should work. Students should not be scared to talk to me or any other professor. I am not saying that I am going to not have deadlines or have students follow them, but why is it so wrong to bend the rules once in a while? Why is frowned upon to give students grace?
At the end of the day, my course is going to be one of many that a student will take in their lifetime. I would consider myself blessed if they leave my class having learned the material that the course was designed for and think of me as a nice person, they got to spend some time with during a semester in their second or third year of college.
How would you like to be remembered by your students?
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