who does well after college graduation? a new study makes an unsurprising (to me) suggestion

Friday, May 9, 2014

A little more than a week ago I said goodbye to my Penn students.

It wasn't easy.

When we take risks as teachers, when we allow ourselves to get involved, when we are willing to care, to get hurt, to go out on a limb, to push the student who doesn't want to be pushed, the goodbye-ing is hard and heartbreaking.

And yet is clear, at least to me, to a certain Gallup/Purdue University team, and to the writer of this recent New York Times op-ed, that that kind of caring—invisible to most—can make a long-term difference. Engagement. Well-being. Those are the factors on the table.

Here is the Times' Charles Blow:
I was surrounded by professors who were almost parentally protective and proud of me — encouraging me to follow my passions (Yes, start that magazine, Charles), helping me win internships, encouraging me to go away and work for a semester, and cheering me on as I became a member of a fraternity and editor of the student newspaper. And, because of them, I emerged from college brimming with confidence — too much at times, depending on whom you ask — and utterly convinced that there was nothing beyond my ability to achieve, if only I was willing to work, hard, for it.

As it turns out, these are the kinds of college experiences that predict whether a person will later be engaged in work and have a high level of well-being after graduation.
 The Gallup and Purdue University research underscores what seems intuitively obvious but is also, often, institutionally ignored. That it matters, for example, that professors get students excited about learning. That it matters that professors care about the students. That it matters that shed some light and some encouragement on the dimensions of their dreams.

Common sense? Absolutely.

But how many times have I been told by a student that I am one of the only professors who knew his name? His name. How many times have I (excited, too) watched a student discover some new part of her soul, some new crazy ambition, and been told: I didn't know this was okay? My classroom is small, and that is my first good fortune. Many writing professors' classrooms are. But I'd be kidding myself if I thought the first order of business there was to churn out 15 capable bloggers or five new memoirists. My job is to assign the right texts, announce the right exercises, distribute the right critiques, build trust, strengthen community—and pay attention to the students as they each arrive. Look up into their faces, take note of their splinted fingers, read their moods, address the temperature of their days, make room for diversions and tangents that can matter right in that moment, and forever.

My job is to know them, to care about them, to nurture.

It isn't hard. It's merely human.


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