Some professions offer a greater sense of closure than teaching. Take plumbing, for example. Plumbing problems are hard to miss and not always easy to fix, but once the PVC has been replaced, the flux applied, and the water is back on, the plumber knows immediately if the problem has been fixed.
The end of the academic year is upon us and any number of students are leaving our courses, leaking like sieves. They are so not fixed, and we despair. We tried but were obviously unsuccessful. Feelings of futility descend. Perhaps we'd be better off doing something else.
But learning isn't over just because the class has ended. How many of us have had those serendipitous run-ins with students years later? “Dr. Weimer, Dr. Weimer,” someone is yelling at me across the crowded mall. “Remember me?” When I see who it is I want to reply, “How could I forget?” But he is upon me smiling. “Oh, you'll never guess, I'm back in school and this time I'm really ready to learn, and I haven't forgotten how you confronted me about just cruisin' along. I didn't do anything about it then, but I knew you were right. I finally figured it out—studying makes a huge difference.” I want to kiss him. . . a serious plumbing problem finally getting fixed. Yes I know, he's doing the fixing, but I'm thinking we supplied the tools.
Then there's the checkout person at Costco who told me she took my class. I look at her closely but without recognition. She tells me her name, still no memory. She's in my grade book and got a B in the course, but I can't remember a thing about her. I always head for her line, and to my amazement, almost every time she rattles off something she remembers from the class. “You wouldn't let us form our own groups. You said we had to learn how to work with people we didn't know. I'm glad you did that.” “You can never communicate the same thing, the same way, to the same person.” “In this job, you can make people defensive. I know how to avoid that.” I want to kiss her. . .a plumbing fix that's still working.
We don't have accidental encounters with most of the students we've had in classes and so we never know who's gotten fixed and who's still leaking. That's the way it is in a profession that doesn't offer immediate closure. So, we need to carry on, doing our best, trusting our skills, and believing in the process. As it says on my new favorite magnet “Teaching is a work of heart.”