Pool Party

What are you doing on a Friday night? I accompanied my REU students1 to a pool and pizza party hosted at the campus Recreation center outdoor pool. Aside from the two organizers from Honors and Undergraduate Research, I think I was the only faculty member there.

Sad news was shared that an REU student collapsed and died on Wednesday evening. One of my students met him and was surprised by the news. I still remember when I heard that one of my martial arts classmates had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, the shocky sense of loss, even though I didn’t know him well. Walking around feeling weird about it for a few days. I was away at a conference; I didn’t even get to mourn with my classmates.

After carting my swimsuit and towel around all day, I was going to swim before heading home. I only got through one lap before getting tired. I did five, then I got out to dry off and watch what my “kids” were up to. To my surprise, I got picked for one of their water polo teams. It felt good to be wanted and maybe even a wee bit treasured, since I was “faculty, SCORE!” when my group outed me. How could I resist?

I didn’t know the rules, but I don’t think I was alone in that. I sure don’t throw or catch well, but a game is fun when everyone is a good sport. Mistakes were laughed off, and victories were congratulated. I had fun despite my inadequacies. They were still going strong when I left.

A friend posted from a speech about leadership on Facebook, “Take care of your people, and your people will take care of you.”

I kept thinking back to our Math Movie Night movie from last night, Stand and Deliver, about Jaime Escalante and how he got his students through the AP calculus exam. At one point, discouraged, he talks about getting a job with better pay and more respect. Jaime Escalante’s wife reminds, “But Jaime, those kids love you.”

While you can’t go into teaching wanting to be loved by your students — that will happen or not as the case may be — you have to go into teaching with a lot of love for your students. Every. Single. Day. No matter what else is going on in your life. The students might learn anyhow, even if you don’t care. They’ll learn a hell of a lot more if you do.

Another quote from the speech on leadership, “The 4 KNOWS: Know yourself; know your people; know your job; know your priorities.”

That’s what I’m thinking about tonight.

1. Research Experiences for Undergraduates, an NSF funded program to get students (especially women and minorities) primary from 4 year colleges without big research programs involved in research. In reality, a lot of the students involved are from big research institutions and few are minorities! At least more than half of our students are female.