Sometimes it takes a while…

Susan Murphy
Lansing Community College Library, Reference and Instruction Librarian

“Why do you always wear a dress, Mrs. Murphy?” asked the 8-year old girl who was all elbows, knees and pigtails.

In appropriate teacher manner, I responded with, “Why do you think?”

“Because you want to look pretty.”

“No,” I went on to explain that teaching was my job and that people dressed for work.  This was a new idea for my second graders who did not have models for dressing for success.

One of a teacher’s roles is to open the eyes of their students to possibilities – and what was required to make those possibilities into realities.

Every year on MLK day, we dreamed.  Each child drew what they dreamed to be and completed the prompt “I have a dream to be…”  When they shared, I made a point of telling each child they were going to college – no matter what their career choice.  Basketball player?  You’re going to college.  Police officer?  Going to college.  Doctor?  Going to college for a very long time.

Fast forward ten years.  As I put my Cheez-its on the grocery checkout, I looked once – then twice at the cashier.  My eyes dropped to her name tag to be sure. It was my gangly second-grader.  And she recognized me too.

I explained that I had become a librarian at LCC and asked what her plans were.  She asked about my daughter and remembered the wardrobe conversation.  I also told her that I had become a better teacher in the years after I had her and her classmates.  She smiled and said, “We loved you.”

She told me she was planning to register at LCC for the upcoming semester.  After the semester started, I asked her how it was going when I saw her.  She hadn’t enrolled.  The next semester, the same thing happened.  And the next and the next.

Finally, she enrolled.  I saw her in the library.  We shared a warm hug.  I asked about her semester.  She was successful and had found her path and her passion.  Ironically, it is fashion.

What have I learned about teaching from just this one student?  Caring matters more than pedagogy.  You need to build relationships.  Being a role model is especially important to those who may have none.  Part of a teacher’s job is to show students another world of possibilities.    And sometimes you just need to keep after them.