This past week there has been a barrage of thank you emails and cards from former students. Some found very satisfying jobs, a few got into graduate schools and some got good grades from my Summer class. One way or the other, apparently, I have touched their lives. I have to say, it feels good.
It is this satisfaction that pays a lot more than any paycheck in teaching. It is the feeling that somehow, with humility, I have made a difference in another person’s life. I will unlikely be in a position to affect millions or thousands of people, the chance of being that is one in millions. One person at a time is what I can realistically aim for.
There is one student that I am very proud of, and I consider an achievement of my methods. He took a 200-level engineering class from me, and while he consistently received good grades, he seemed a bit miserable. At some point, apparently after realizing that I am crazy (in the sense that I do many other things besides engineering), he came to talk to me. It was a classic story of a 2nd generation immigrant; his parents wanted him to get a “professional degree”, for future career and financial security. I thoroughly understood his parents’ good intention, it was noble and caring for their son.
But his heart was not in engineering.
His heart was in Comparative Literature (with a very appropriately visual short form C. Lit. in the school catalog). it was wonderful to see his eyes lit up the moment he started talking about it, and it was immediately clear what he needed to do. We talked about how he could convey this to his parents, respecting thoroughly their intentions, eliminating their worries about a “non-professional” career and setting up steps to change his path.
He went away, prepared everything and talked to his parents. He got his degree in C. Lit. two years later.
Today, he is almost done with his graduate school at WSU, he has taught classes in the subject and gone on to inspire his own group of students.
Thinking about it, it is rather interesting to note that one of the most memorable students of mine is someone I effectively removed from the department. Regardless, I am proud of him, and I am honored to have been part of that journey.
Many people have touched my journey, and if it was not for them, I would not be here today. There is knowledge that you can learn from books, videos and online courses, but the one thing that all of these media miss is interactivity. No fixed media can perfectly tailor learning or mentoring to a specific person. No fixed media involves the care for you. It has always involved a living, breathing human being. Looking back at my whole life, care has come in many forms from many people. My parents, who steadfastly support me in every endeavor. My mentors, who somehow believe in my limited abilities. My younger brother Fung, who continues to amaze me with his talents and move me to set higher standards. My friends, who don’t give up on me even at the darkest hours. My students, who have actually taught me more collectively than I have ever taught them.
And for that. Thank you.