A few years ago, I wrote an article with two of my students (Nia Haydel and Sibby Anderson-Thomkins) entitled Corridors and Coffee Shops: Teaching Outside the Classroom. The article focused on the teaching and learning that occurs when students and professors meet informally. Last week, I had a wonderful moment of teaching and learning with a student.
It’s summer, so I am not in my office too much. However, last week I went in to process my travel receipts and make a bunch of phone calls. Once I finished, I thought I’d do some writing. After a couple hours of solitude with the writing process, a student knocked on my door. Although at first I wanted to keep writing, I ended up having one of the most positive and richest experiences I’ve had in a long time with a student.
We talked for a bit about some ideas that he has and I tried to provide motivation for these ideas. As I watched him, I could tell that he was preparing to do something amazing with his life — although he didn’t quite know it yet. His dedication and commitment showed on his face and in the large stack of books he was carrying with him. But this conversation was not the best part of the interaction.
Although I was enjoying my time with the student, I had two conference calls in which I needed to participate. I told him and he said, “Can I listen? Can I watch you work?” At first, I thought it was an odd request. But after thinking about it for a few minutes, I said fine. So, as I talked on the phone to people interested in my research on historically Black colleges and universities, he listened. He sat there for over an hour listening to what I said. He would laugh every so often and then go back to listening and thumbing through my extensive book collection.
Afterward, we discussed my commentary — what I said, why I said it and how I felt about the questions. I also asked him what he thought of the conference call conversations. He challenged me and forced me to back up my assertions. All of this led to stimulating conversation — one that I only left because I had to go home and feed my daughter.
My conversation with the student and his rather unorthodox request to watch me work made me reflect on what I like most about being a professor — the time spent with students. Students are usually not jaded. They have big dreams and wonderful energy. It’s nice to be reminded why you became a professor in the first place. I encourage all professors to spend more time listening to young people and interacting with them outside of the classroom. Sometimes, it’s what young people see you do that motivates them to succeed.
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