What I learn from finals

The end of a semester is always bitter-sweet. Among the sweetness is that as students buckle down and work on their final papers, one’s own brain switches back to research and writing. I love how that happens from one moment to the next. The part of you that was preoccupied with making sure your students were alright empties out and is immediately flooded with ideas instead. I love that.

The bitterness, really a bit of a depressing moment, consists in the fact that you made fifteen, twenty, sometimes more, new friends that you will most likely not see anymore after classes are over. The rare pleasure is that email from nowhere or that returning student that tells you that your efforts were not wasted after all. We make a difference in our students lives if we are present to our students.

And then there is the joy of back and forth that starts with a student’s idea for a final paper. It leads to conversation, to thinking together, and finally to a paper to which you respond, which – in turn – leads to new thoughts and ideas. It’s when students help you think anew and differently. Sometimes it is their most charming mistakes that make you realize where you’ve made assumptions all along and never clearly stated what ought to have been stated from the beginning. One learns even and especially from flawed student writing. So here is my thanks to all of my students this semester. Thank you for making the effort, for putting thought and work in your paper, and even if you did not get an A, let me assure you that I learned something from you.

 

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