Turning the Tables – What Did I Learn?

Lillian Ryall
Assistant Professor, Mathematics

It was my fourth year of teaching. I walked into my classroom, albeit, a little anxious with a fresh new semester on the horizon.  In the sea of new faces, there were only a few familiar ones.  One of the new faces belonged to an older student, Jackie.  She sat by the window, quiet but attentive.  As the semester went on, I learned Jackie attended school to earn admission into the nursing program.  She seemed organized, knowledgeable, and always on time.  She started her college path over 20 years ago, but did not finish.  She came back to school and ended up in my mathematics class.

As the semester progressed, Jackie asked many questions, unafraid and unconcerned about what her classmates thought.  She appeared very confident in herself.  At first, she seemed to struggle, but her dedication really paid off.  She proved to be one of the brightest students, doing fantastic in the class.

A few years later, I ran into Jackie.  She stopped me, gave me a big hug and said thank you.  I had no clue what I had done.  With tears in her eyes, she told me that she had struggled with math for years and it was one of the reasons she quit college in the first place.  Jackie said that my math class was one of the first classes she took when she came back to school.  In order to pass my class, she put in a tremendous amount of time and effort. Although, it took her a copious amount of work, she explained that because of my kindness, helpfulness and flexibility, she succeeded.  Jackie never shared with me her adversities during that semester.  As we spoke, she told me that she had a lot to deal with during that semester.  Her mom resided in a nursing facility and stood on death’s doorstep.  Her husband was diabetic, doing very poorly and could not work.  She thought she would never reach her goal. With all this going on, she nearly quit again. However, she said my class made her feel welcome.  She felt free to ask questions, never intimidated.  She saw her own capability to do the work, understand the material, and apply it with my guidance.  Now, only a few classes stood between her and her nursing degree.  I was so proud of her.  From that moment forward, I realized what a sizable impact I could have on students.  She inspired me to continue reaching out to my students.  I always treat students with respect, and I show compassion because you never know with what a student is struggling with outside of class, and one kind face can make all the difference.