The other day Tenured Radical posted a story about her undergraduate transformation from an “untogether” to a “together” student. The fact that she got into Yale suggests that her academic potential was different than that of many of my own students, but I think there are some general things that professors can take away from her story.
First is her contention that as a college student she wanted “to be invisible, to be free and to be special.” These three words seem to encapsulate the desires of many students, despite the fact that being invisible and being special seem contradictory. In TR’s case, being singled out as special in one area led to transformations in other areas. I do wonder, though, how a student’s belief that he or she is special before arriving on campus might affect interactions with others. While TR might have thought she was special after getting into Yale, did that belief cause her to wonder why nobody was noticing her in her first years? Some of my own students have done extremely well relative to others in their high schools only to attend college and realize that their academic abilities are not in line with their academic identities.
The second general thing that I think we can take away from her story is the list of things she learned through this process. Some of these things may seem self-evident, but it is easy to forget them when we continually focus on the negative aspects of our students:
- Be open to new opportunities and new people.
- If you work hard, someone will notice you.
- When people notice you, let it lift you up.
- The student in the room who is really screwing up might just need a small adjustment to excel. Never write a student off.
- Take opportunities to close the social gaps between student and professor, senior and junior colleague, faculty and administrators.
- When students fib, don’t blame them, but do them the favor of responding honestly. It is the moral equivalent of an intravenous shot of Red Bull to be held accountable but not judged.
- Be generous.