The shocking thing my student said

At the end of our last Spanish class for the semester, a few of the students stayed behind to chat and visit for a few minutes. They were an excellent group and had interacted well throughout the semester. Many of them thanked me for a good class, which I always appreciate.

One student, Sam, we’ll call him, said something I’ve never heard before and it shocked me in a way that few comments from a student have in 16 years of teaching.

“You’re the first instructor at university to learn my name,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”

I reeled in disbelief.

“What year are you in?” I asked.

“Third year,” he replied. “I’m on schedule to graduate next year.”

“What’s your major?” I probed further.

“Sciences. This is the only class I’ve ever had that has fewer than 100 people in it. None of the other profs learn our names. I suppose they can’t with that many students.”

I nodded in agreement. My classes have grown in size since I started teaching and with 35 students this year, it took me longer than usual to learn everyone’s name.

He went on to say, “I want to be a science teacher, but not here. I want to work in a place where I can get to know my students. This place is a factory.”

Not wanting to enter a discussion on the state of post-secondary institutions today, I simply remarked that I thought he had many qualities that would make him a good teacher.

He’s got good, solid grades and comes to class on a regular basis. He’s interested and engaged, polite and congenial. He’s got a decent work ethic and works well with other students in class. His classmates like him and he gets along with just about everyone. He’s not a super-duper genius, and nor is he a complete trouble maker. That’s part of the trouble, I suppose. Not being at the far end of either side of the scale, he gets lost in the crowd.

How sad… this student pays thousands of dollars a year in tuition for higher education and even as he approaches graduation, almost no one knows his name. As educators, we make a powerful connection with our students when we learn their names (or at least try).


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

2 Responses to The shocking thing my student said

  1. I had the same experience 30 years ago at Penn State University. It wasn’t until 4th year that a prof knew me by name or showed any interest in me as a student. Of the 10,000 students who entered the College of Engineering as freshmen only 1100 graduated with a degree in that discipline. And which prof cared to know me well as a student? Not math. Not physics. Not science. It was my German prof. Dr S: Thank you for keeping the bar high!

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