By Bill Henk – Let’s face it. As professionals, some days are better than others. Some feel glorious and triumphant, and some feel awful and demoralizing. Truth be told, most days tend to be ordinary.
Oh, I love the glorious and triumphant days for sure. For me, those days can unfold in a number of different ways. The common denominator is that some news I receive is both major and enormously gratifying. It could be a successful accreditation review. It could be a generous gift from a friend of the College or from a foundation. It could be a recognition of some kind for one of our faculty members, students, staff, or alumni. It could be the culmination of a project I’ve worked long and hard on to achieve.
Fact is, the list goes on, and so you know, I enjoy more than my fair share of these special days in my role as dean. And I’m thankful for every last one of them.
But I also have a special fondness for an ordinary day that turns into a profoundly gratifying one. I had one of those last week, and I want to describe it briefly for you here.
The deservedly proud father of one of our fairly recent graduates shared with me a note via email that his daughter, a teacher, had received from a parent. I share the note below. When you read it, you’ll understand why I’d be tempted to feel some measure of pride even though I had precious little, if anything, to do with the outcomes it describes.
For the record, I never taught this alumna in a class. And although I’d likely recognize her face as a familiar one from passing in the halls, I’d be hard-pressed to put a name to her. I have no specific recollection of us ever speaking. Sadly, and I hate to admit it, but that would be true of the overwhelming majority of our students, and it’s one of my biggest laments as a dean.
As a result, all I did to contribute to the contents of the letter below, and it’s a stretch at that, was try to keep the College of Education running in a way that helped make our graduate’s professional experiences, and those of her classmates, meaningful and productive. In other words, pretty much the “ordinary” stuff.
By contrast, our education faculty, the professionals who helped form her as a deeply knowledgeable, skilled and caring teacher, could definitely take credit. Accordingly, I forwarded the parent’s communication to them with the statement, “If you’re ever wondering whether your work with our aspiring teachers makes a difference in the world, you might want to break out this letter.” Without further adieu, here it is:
Dear Ms. ______,
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you, and to let you know what a positive impact you have had on Katie.
Since the first day of your class, Katie has come home often with details about your organized, homey classroom and your positive teaching style. She said that she always knows what to expect, and has learned so much about writing a paper from your methods. You have given her much confidence; she actually enjoyed working on the research paper, and plans to take all of your teaching materials and notes along with her to college next year. According to Katie, your methods “make the paper write itself!” ;-)
Most importantly, aside from being a great teacher, you are a positive and caring person. As you may know, Katie has struggled with some challenging health issues over the past two years, which have greatly affected her energy and self-confidence. She said that you always say just the right thing, and truly show that you care. She said that you care about everyone, and go through many extra steps throughout the day to help everyone do their best work. Your class is truly the bright spot in her day – a place she wishes she could stay all day – and I cannot thank you enough for helping her and being such a positive force. You teach with great heart.
So thank you again for being an overall wonderful teacher and person. The world needs more of you!
Proud father. Proud faculty. Proud dean. Proud institution.
Ordinary? Try EXTRAordinary…