Never Forget Your First Impression as a Teacher

Peter DeLuca
Instructor, Automotive Technology

As an instructor at Lansing Community College, I learned I am driven by empathy. For me personally, empathy is primal, bonding, and rewarding. Over the years I became keenly aware how empathy for the challenges students face helped me become a better teacher.

On my first day teaching in the Automotive Technology Center at the Lansing Community College main campus, I was standing outside my assigned classroom watching as students began to appear for the evening classes.  One particular pair of students caught my eye.  A young couple, girl and boy, hand in hand, staring intently at a class schedule, slowly walking, occasionally bumping into each other as they walked.  It was obvious they were both unsteady and anxious looking for a classroom. What I witnessed left me with an overwhelming sense of empathy, but I did not act to help them. Even after 20 years, I frequently think about my experience with the young couple and regret my missed opportunity to help them find their way. For this reason, I look for opportunities to help unsteady and anxious students.

One of the principle advantages of Lansing Community College is open access to education for the community. The open access also brings students with a wide range of personal challenges.  Some with learning difficulties resulting in low self-esteem, others with family dysfunction, and some with their own internal personal demons.  When I encounter students with these challenges and they are having difficulty in my class, I feel compelled to reach out and help.  Some only need a few extra hours to get back on track, while others require multiple weekends just to make it under the wire. My ultimate goals is to make sure these students gain the skills they need to perform with confidence professionally.

At the end of the semester, the last day of class, the student will approach me and express their appreciation for my extra effort helping them with their new found skills. Some students are able to articulate their thoughts easily while others are not able to completely speak the words “thank you” before their voice begins to break up with emotion. Each time a student approaches me at this point, I recall my experience with the two clinging students back on my first day teaching and the connection makes me smile both inside and out.

There are many different reasons why I teach at Lansing Community College, but empathy is a big part of why I am excited to start every new semester.