By Daris Howard
It was summer graduation day at the university where I work and a beautiful day it was, unlike the first graduation I attended as a young professor. That one was in April and the cold south wind had swirled the snow around us.
On that day, as we watched the students file past, one of my more seasoned colleagues, who was also my mentor, turned to me and said, “Graduation will be one of the happiest and one of the saddest times of your life.”
When I asked him why it was the one of the saddest he very somberly answered, “Because some of the students you have gotten to know have to leave.”
When I asked him why it was one of the happiest he grinned. “Because some of the students you have gotten to know have to leave.”
As the procession of students ended we turned and marched to join them in the auditorium, filling the seats reserved for us. As the commencement continued on for a long time my colleague reached inside the bell sleeves of his graduation robe and pulled out a book of differential equations from one and popcorn from the other. His quiet munching and flipping of pages soon drew my attention away from the redundant words which were meant to inspire.
But my colleague’s words that day have etched their message on my mind. When I come across the infrequent student that is belligerent, almost daring a person to teach him, I have had to rethink why I chose to be a teacher.
It obviously isn’t the money. This was brought home to me some time ago when a former computer science student of mine called me. He said he had a job working for Nintendo. His starting wage was higher than my current one even though I had more education than he had and I had worked for more than a decade.
He said he knew with my programming skills he could get me hired and then he added, “… and the best part is after programming we get to play the game for six months to test it.”
I thanked him, but declined his kind offer. Years ago in a class I had taken we were given the assignment of working on our own obituary, not as we were then, but as we hoped our life would play out. That has colored many of the decisions I have made through the years. I can’t envision the epitaph on my headstone saying, “He loved to play games”.
As I sat down to work on final grades, I found a note a student had slipped in with her homework. She thanked me for being her teacher and said the things she had learned in my class, not about math, but about life, would be things she would remember long after the math skills had faded away.
As I finished reading her note, I remembered why I had become a teacher. With renewed dedication and a deeper sense of satisfaction I prepared for the next semester.
(Daris Howard is a syndicated columnist, writer, playwright and teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)