The verb in the headline above means something positive. I can’t stress that enough: I am positively gobsmacked at the kind words I’ve received from Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students who I worked with in the recently concluded fall semester.

Overwhelmed.

Honored.

Touched.

Bewildered.

Reeling.

I don’t know what I said or did to elicit their messages. I obviously can’t share their names but I think it’s OK to share some of what they wrote. These emails mean that much to me.

I’ve always read and heard that teaching can be profoundly rewarding. I knew that in a vague, theoretical sense. Now that I’ve dipped a toe part-time into teaching I’m learning that it is more than theory.

The fall semester was my second as what is called a preceptor, which I suppose is pretentious academic jargon for teacher. When FGCU associate journalism professor Lyn Millner asked me a year ago to fill in and meet with students on Fridays in a class called News Literacy I never imagined what would happen.

How would I handle these young people? How would they respond to a gray-haired, overweight codger, a relic from antiquity who remembers telegrams and typewriters and the Beatles coming to America?

I started writing for newspapers in 1975, long before these students were born. Yet, somehow, we seem to have connected. How do I know that? Their messages tell me so.

These missives mean more to me than all the Super Bowls I covered and Olympic Gold Medalists I’ve interviewed or awards I won.

Here is an example:

“I am extremely grateful I was able to have you as a preceptor this semester. I wanted to thank you for all the kind and encouraging words you have offered me; they always made my day and lifted my spirits. I looked forward to seeing you every Friday and learning more about the news business. …

“Everyone who had you as a preceptor I talked to had nothing but kind words to say about you. Thank you again for taking the time to teach this semester. I hope you have a lovely weekend, and happy holidays!”

I never thought my kind words for this student would have such an impact. She is a strong writer and deserved praise for her work. It was that simple. I didn’t think about the impact of praising this student. It was simply my job. Good work deserves praise.

Now she has returned the favor.

I also received the following from a student who read my previous blog post about being a preceptor:

“I read your entire blog post and it was deeply touching. I am very glad to hear that I’ve had an impact on you this semester and I want you to know that you’ve definitely impacted my college career

“My first semester was eye-opening. Everything was new and unexplored and that’s always a little scary. I was always used to my teachers being friendly to me and knowing me by name but sort of talking down to me and that changed drastically when I came to college. Teachers didn’t know who I was, and they didn’t really care.

“I was a number on a page, a name in a book. You were the first professor (yes, you’re a professor) to make me feel like you actually knew who I was and that you actually cared to know me personally. I remember one day you brought me a newspaper because you found an article in it that you thought I’d like. It was the smallest gesture but it also really touched me to know that you remembered me while you were out somewhere (perhaps in a Starbucks) reading the newspaper.

“You might not view yourself as much of a professor but I think you are. You’ve connected with us on a level that not many college professors do and … you made us feel like we were important and like you cared. …

“So thank you for a wonderful semester, I hope you’ll be coming back to FGCU if not to teach again, just pop in to Professor Millner’s grammar class (Monday’s at 11:30.”

I just might pop into that class for two reasons – to say hello to students and also to learn more about grammar.

Another student read my previous blog post and sent this:

“It was beautifully written. I think I can speak for everyone in my recitation with confidence in saying that we all loved having you. … Will you be on campus this upcoming semester? I’d love to pop by.”

One of the assignments News Literacy students have to do is periodically post a news story to a discussion board. I couldn’t help but notice that one student seemed to always post stories about young women or children being abducted. I know there was an attempted abduction near campus early in the semester.

I had a conversation with this young woman before class one day about school shootings and her fear for the future and the day when she has her own children. Will they be safe at school?

This trend of abduction stories was troublesome. I worried about the student and after the final recitation of the semester I asked her to hold on for a moment as students filed out the door. I simply asked if she was doing OK. I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do or not but I went ahead and spoke with her.

We chatted for only a few seconds but she sent me the following:

“I just wanted to say thank you for pulling me aside and asking if I was okay.”

She then went on to talk about an older sister who had health issues in college. I don’t feel it’s proper to share any particulars about her sister.

Then the student wrote this: “I wish she would have had a professor in college that asked her if she was okay. It really shows that you care about your students. But, I am great!”

So am I! And not because of anything I did or said but because of these messages from students.

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