Dear Student 1,
We took you to brunch today, wanting to give you, if nothing else, another experience of two functional adults in your life who care about you and who are checking in with you to make sure everything is okay. Curious about your life and wishing you the best.
No, you aren’t going to pay for the meal when you are out with us. Pay it forward, to your kids if you have them. To some other struggling young person you encounter later in life. We can’t fix our pasts. We can’t fix your present. We can only try to give to you some of those things we wish we’d had back then, most especially some older adults who just like you and who are willing to go to bat for you.
We talked for a while about the future. My friend talked about finding a place to settle down; that was important to him. And me, what would I advise? I would advise you to expect nothing. It is nice to have a place where you are settled down, but you may not get that. Just when I’ve thought I’ve settled into a place, there has been a reason for me to leave it.
The biggest disappointments I have had are the things I always assumed I get, and didn’t. Assume nothing, except that life is going to be difficult. You will struggle, but you will find your path. It will be hard. That you can assume. Plan for adversity in the future so you can take care of yourself if the worst case happens. But don’t plan out the rest too much; allow yourself to walk through with open eyes and open arms for opportunities and people you will want to embrace.
And if you ever feel stuck and discouraged, try not to be afraid to change. Your worst moments will make your best stories — trust me on this — once they stop hurting you so much. You just have to get through them.
You can have a run of bad luck that goes on for months or years, but if you can just hang on, you can come out the other side.
And in the meantime, no matter what you do, no matter where you are, no matter where I am, if you need someone, please call. If you want to share some success, please call. Just keep my number handy for those moments, and know every time I will be glad to hear from you. I know I’m not your Mom. I’m not anyone’s Mom (that was one thing I wished for my future that I didn’t get). But if I can be your next best thing, I hope you know I’ll try my guts out for you.
Dr. Jinx (who hopes that word won’t freak you out)
(And, yes, I’m going to ask you and my male friend/partner in crime to lunch or something again in a few weeks and keep doing this until you are convinced that here we are and we mean it and we aren’t going anywhere.)
From Student 2:
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for the amount of work you put into teaching us Linear Algebra.
Let me first say, this is in no way an attempt to “suck-up” or any such effort. My grade will be earned fairly regardless of any fallacious tactics to woo over a professor. 🙂
I just know how important it is to let those you contribute so much to your education know they are doing an excellent job. I feel I begin the homework and other assigned work with much more confidence and understanding of the material. This is highly due to the material you have provided (i.e. reading guided note taking, online notes from class for reference, posted solutions, and availability outside of class.) Take my absence from your office hours as a sign that you have taught well enough that there is no need for outside assistance.
Expect to see a high score earned on my first Exam!
Dear Student 2,
You had no way of knowing what I’d be doing today. I was out on my bike and started to have an anxiety attack. I cut the ride somewhat short to get back home for some medication, and along with the medication I found your note.
Thank you for helping to lift me out of that funk of self-doubt, where I am afraid that everything in the world is wrong and me along with it. I wonder sometimes how many of you are hating me for teaching a hard class, even though I know an easy one won’t serve you well in the future. I feel guilty for all the times I’ve had to be gone this semester. For struggling to find time to give you. For not working further ahead, taking each day as it comes, doing what I can, and hoping it is enough. For not being able to give you a better big picture of this wondrous subject we are learning. For not having time enough to explain all the examples, and resorting to the advice that you read them in the book.
Because there it is, at the end of the day, if you are enjoying learning, I know what I’ve done has mattered. I can’t make math into a video game (at least, I haven’t figured out how yet), but at the same time, it shouldn’t be torture. Little puzzles to figure out, one after another.
Thank you for your thanks. Today it meant the world to me. And I did print out what you said, cut it out, and tack it onto the bulletin board by my desk.
And, for darn sure, you better ace that exam.