Sunday, October 23, 2011

On being praised for staying out of the way

Being a college professor is a pretty high status occupation in our culture. In most fields, the renumeration isn't high, but there are tradeoffs: the autonomy of the classroom, tenure, the opportunity to follow your curiosity wherever it leads, the respect of your community.

But that doesnt stop me from feeling a bit small and provincial next to the students I used to teach, the ones who probably thought I was a fairly August personage in their day. The toughest part of being a teacher of any kind is staying put while your students move on and do great things and become people of real consequence.

We had lunch today with an alumnus from six years ago, who is now in the first year of a pediatrics residency in Tucson. I hope she didn't mind as we peppered her with questions about her work, about the state of medical education, about the kinds of patients she sees, about how her life has changed since she left us behind, about what in the education we gave her has proven useful.

She's not only beautiful, thoughtful, and self-possessed -- she's also an impressive person who is on her way to accomplishments far beyond the ones in my own life that I like to think are so noteworthy. I feel foolish being on the receiving end of her deference and respect. it should be the other way around.

I certainly take pride in what my students go on to do after they leave my classroom. But I don't deserve any credit for it. The idea that their lives should shine some spare glory onto mine seems backwards. I'm the one who is lucky to have been around while they were building towards greatness, and the respect and status I get for standing still while they flow around me like water around a rock is hardly earned.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As long as you're respectful about it, you should be taking some credit. Brag on the best and figure out from the worst where you could do better. (As an aside, I think you'll find with those 'worst' kids that a lot of it is out of your control.) But don't be shy! You do incredible, valuable work. The fact is that teachers (and education) are under assault in this country. We've asked a lot of you, now we're going to ask a little more: figure out how to "sell" what you do and the value of it, and then be an unflagging and unflinching advocate for it.
Got this off the twitter feed so I'll just sign myself,