Magazine Reflections

When You Look Back at Your Career . . .

What has been your most rewarding moment as an educator?

Fall 2023

When I was seventy-six, Down East Magazine included my profile in a special issue about seventy Mainers over seventy. A few weeks after the issue came out, I received a handwritten card from the town of Brunswick, Maine. It was a note of congratulations from a sixty-two-year-old high school teacher. Back in the day, she’d been a student in my high school English class. In her note, she thanked me for inspiring her. She is a grandmother. I am a grandfather. Who’d of thought?
Doug Rawlings, University of Maine at Farmington

Every year, I take students to Jamaica. During our travels, we work with pregnant teens to build self-esteem and self-love. One year, a student said she’d had difficulties as the only White woman within the group. She felt “othered” by the teens and thought they were teasing her. Her feelings changed when she later learned that the teens had never interacted with someone who looked like her. After the murder of George Floyd, she wrote a social media post about how this experience had opened her eyes. She said I influenced her life by teaching her about cultural competence in human services.
Narketta Sparkman-Key, James Madison University

I once had a student in my foundation design course who was on the autism spectrum. All my students require and receive one-to-one assistance, but this student had difficulty completing work independently. I was gratified to see other students in the course step in to assist the student. For one project, students had to “translate” an image into a three-dimensional texture. It’s a challenging assignment for many students, but this student handed in beautiful results. After the project critique I said, “I am so proud of you.” The student responded with a beaming smile, “I’m proud too!”
Dana Scott, Thomas Jefferson University

I have always loved learning and jump at the opportunity to help foster that same passion in others. Early in my career, I directed a scholarship program that used financial incentives to motivate academically strong students to participate in an enhanced teacher education opportunity. I remember one student who had a limited outlook on things. He was emphatic about going home every weekend and refused to participate in cocurricular experiences. At the end of one advisory session, his exasperation showed. “You just want us to question everything we know, broaden our horizons, experience new things, cut the cords of home, and meet people who are different from us,” he declared. I thought, “A hole in one!”
Carol Burton, West Carolina University

In the fall of 2022, I accepted an offer to teach a class in medical-surgical nursing (med/surg). I have the relevant certification, but I had not worked in a med/surg unit for many years. To ensure that my class included the most current practice guidelines, I reached out to a former student who works on a med/surg floor. I shadowed her during a night shift. I felt such pride watching her take care of her patients and delegate tasks to her coworkers. It was rewarding to see a former student of mine making a difference.
Edna Aurelus, Wagner College

As the dean of a school of nursing, I have seen students struggle through our challenging curriculum. My most rewarding moment was when a student who had overcome many obstacles in her life emailed to say that she had passed her nursing boards after failing the first time. She wrote that she would not have continued in her journey to become a nurse if I had not been present in her life.

Since then, she’s sent me photos of different landmarks in her life: her first new car, her wedding, and her house. She says that this has all happened because I was there when she needed me most. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Patricia Tooker, Wagner College

Illustration by Jin Xia