One of the things that surprised me most during my conversation with Jacqueline Woodson was her admission that she sometimes doubts if she can complete another book. At this point in my writing career, I feel like I’ve got lots of novels yet to come but when I think about my teaching…sometimes I wonder if I still have what it takes. I even have dreams where my classroom is chaotic, I’m unprepared, and the students are unruly! Next month I start my new job and I’m working on my syllabi right now. I want to develop several new courses because I see segments of the student population that aren’t being served by the existing curriculum. And I was raised to simply fix whatever I see that’s broken—my father called that “taking the initiative” rather than waiting to be asked. That approach hasn’t always worked well at other jobs, however, because what I see as “broken” others often see as perfectly fine. And I do wonder—how will these students respond to my teaching style? Will my ideas and innovations be appreciated by the other faculty? Will I be expected to simply uphold the status quo? Then yesterday I got this beautiful, heartwarming email from a former student and it banished (almost) all of my anxiety:
Dear Dr. ElliottHello, my name is ***. I am not sure if you remember me but I took your African American Literature class at *** roughly five years ago while you were a visiting professor. I have recently been thinking back on my time at *** and as a whole it was not a great educational experience. However, one of the few great moments of my college education was taking your college course. You unknowingly bestowed upon me an immeasurable amount of strength. You always forced me to look within myself, and take what I learned from class and attempt to use it within my own life. I remember vividly a heated class discussion we had one day. You asked the class, “Can being gay be equated with being black?” I had never come out to anyone outside of my closest friends, yet you made me feel secure enough to speak up and come out in front of the class in defense of being gay. I just want to let you know that regardless if you remember me or not I appreciate you. You have made a huge impact on who I am today and I will forever be indebted to you and I hope that many, many other people get to experience what I experienced. You were the bright spot to an otherwise dark education and i thank you so much for that. You were amazing and again thank you. I sincerely hope to meet you again some day.
With extreme respect and gratitude,