“If you had all the answers then you wouldn’t be here.”

When I started my career as a professor, I always thought that the research part, and developing lectures, and writing would be the most interesting to me. To be actively engaged in the scholarship of my area.

Photos by Megan Monday

Tracy | UW-Oshkosh, WI

“But it turns out that’s not it. It’s the relationships that you build with students—how much they trust and depend on you; that’s my favorite part of this job. That’s what I miss during the summer when they’re not here. So much of my identity now is built around that dynamic. Who I am is so much because of who they are.

I remember the first class I ever taught. It was September of 2006. I had been a teacher’s assistant before, at graduate school, but that was it. It’s like, ‘Okay, this is the big time. You’ve got to be for real.’ 

So I came in the room and I was very, very formal. I wasn’t dressed comfortably. I was trying to be all sorts of, ‘Here are the rules and here’s what we’re going to do and here’s the syllabus and blah, blah, blah, blah.’ I was trying to be someone that I wasn’t. I was trying to be some professor that was in my head, and for the first three weeks I just hated it. I was like, ‘Why do I hate this so much?’

Then I realized the reason. It’s me. I'm trying to be someone else and not myself.

So I ditched what I was doing and changed and the student response was amazing. I started to have students that would follow me from class to class and who would come to office hours because they could talk to me for who I am, not for who I thought I was supposed to be.

I think back to those first students who had to endure all my first lectures. Those students are still so special to me because they were the ones that taught me how to be a better teacher through their attention, through their really good questions and through their ability to show me what a UW-Oshkosh student could do. My career started with what I’ve known I wanted to do for a very long time, but the students have changed the very reason I love it.”

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“Freshmen students in particular, I think, can underestimate how difficult the transition is to college. But they also underestimate how much we want to help them. The whole reason we’re here is for them. We really like them and we want them to be successful, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to make that happen.

One time I was giving a tour to my new students. I pointed out the writing center and the tutoring lab, and also the counseling center. I just pointed it out as a resource, like, ‘If you’re feeling like there’s something you can’t handle, relationships, or school, or other stresses or homesickness, know that this place is here.’ One of my students emailed me later that year. He said, ‘I want you to know that I’m transferring.’ He was like, ‘But I think that time you took us to the counseling center saved my life.’ He was like, ‘Most of the semester I was feeling suicidal.’ He said, ‘I needed a new place and now I found it a little bit closer to home. I really needed to hear about that resource right then.’

In that way I sort of think of campus as one big team. If I have a student who needs something beyond what I’m trained to give, I know the resources and I’m happy to guide them in the direction where they can receive help.

So that means come to my office hours. I will sit and talk to you. You can cry here. That's fine. I have Kleenex.

It’s a supportive environment. We have you in our little nest for four years so we can get you ready to go out and do something awesome. It’s not going to be easy, so let us help you. If you had all the answers then you wouldn’t be here. Help us help you figure it out.”

“I get so excited about the first day, because it’s an opportunity to connect with the new students and to help show them the world is such a more awesome and bigger and more exciting and more complicated place than they have ever imagined. And it’s about finding intellectual partners. The promise of the first day is that you’re looking for other minds to share this incredible experience with. It’s not about memorization and it’s not about content. Certainly that’s important, but it’s also important that we have a relationship, that we have an experience, that they can use the knowledge that they’re gaining right away, that it’s meaningful to them, because then it will stick with them even long after they’re out of my class. They’ve got to have something they can take with them.

There’s one student, Amy, who came to us. Little freshman tennis player, adorable. Smart, asked the right questions, was obviously engaged, was up here all the time, did everything right. Went on to study abroad with us, totally changed her worldview. Ended up going to graduate school in the UK. I used to talk to her on Skype when she was a graduate student, working through problems. Then she ended up in aerospace. A job in Rockford, then Chicago, then United Airlines. Now she’s a consultant. So that little pony-tailed student who showed up in her sweats every day is now this very polished person who is amazing and who can serve as such a resource for our current students.

You just see them go from wide-eyed, unsure, adorable little freshmen to these people who are leaders and who have taken their education and transformed themselves and transformed their communities. It’s great to be a part of that.”

Tracy | UW-Oshkosh, WI

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