Sunday, September 10, 2017

It is Still All About #Relationships

One week ago, Frank Bruni wrote a tremendous piece in the New York Times, "The Real Campus Scourge."  I recommend it to anyone in education, whether a PK Teacher, a college President, a member of the cafeteria staff, an athletic director, or a parent.  This is a must read.  Briefly, Bruni notes the loneliness that is impacting college freshmen, particularly, and the impact that technology has on those feelings.

It made me think about my transition to college, twenty five years ago this month during the fall of 1992.  I was incredibly homesick and missed my family.  I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I was assigned, and had not found a group of friends I could connect with yet.  I was in a dorm room built for two, that had three freshmen crammed into it.

During this time, I went to the office hours of a professor with a question about an assignment for his class.  It must have shown on my face or in my body language because he asked me if I was OK.  I took a chance and shared how overwhelmed I was, feeling homesick, unsure of my ability to handle the workload, and not making many friends.

To this day, I have not forgotten what he told me.  In so many words, he offered that the Admissions Department was really good at what they do.  In his experience, they only select students who demonstrate in the admissions process somehow that they can handle the workload, have the abilities, and the determination to be successful and graduate.  Yes, he admitted, there were times when the Admissions Department missed the mark, but despite all that I had just shared with him and that we only met for class a handful of times, he didn't put me in that category.

That half hour in Professor Robert Garvey's office during September of 1992 gave me hope that what I was feeling at that time was temporary, and that I could get through it.  It reminded me that I proved to someone that I could do the work.  Finally, it gave me the confidence that I was lacking.  It wasn't like flipping a light switch, but it was a critical moment in my college experience and one that I can distinctly remember twenty five years later.

While it may be easy to blame the fact that back then there was no voicemail, the internet was confined to computer labs, I didn't have an e-mail address, let alone two, and (wait for it) there were no smartphones, that misses the point.  Do all those things (any many more) have incredible upsides and inevitable drawbacks?  Absolutely!  So we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Our third goal in the MPS Action Plan is "All students will take an active role in shaping their learning experiences and developing who they are as learners."  This is the work that will help bridge the gap that Bruni exposes very articulately in his article.  This is the place where we can make a difference as adults, aware of this gap, in the lives of our students.  This is a critical place for students going forward, learning to balance the technology in their hands and the human beings in front of them.

Professor Garvey is still a Physics Professor at the College of the Holy Cross, my undergraduate alma mater.  Thanks to technology, I'll be reaching out to him and sending him this blog post.  I cannot underscore how important that one conversation was in my life.  I hope that someday given a similar opportunity, I can do something like that for a student of mine.

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