By: Joe Martin, Ed.D | Article from 2017 Fall CLT Magazine

A student once asked me, “Dr. Martin, why do you care so much about us?” I guess I need to put this question into context. My class (as a whole) had just done horribly on one of my tests. After apologizing for letting them down as their teacher and for obviously not preparing them properly, I used the entire class period to solicit suggestions on improving my teaching methods. I

t was obvious to my students that I was really disappointed in myself as a result of their performance. In other words, they could see I was taking it personally.

After vowing to do better and to dedicate myself even more to helping them improve their efforts, one of my students asked the question, “Why do you care so much about us?” The question was implying that I was taking their failure too personal, but I couldn’t see how I could take it any other way; I consider their success my success, and I consider their failure, well…you know. Well, I couldn’t think of a better way to start this semester than by asking you a similar question: “Why do you care so much about students?” I don’t know about you, but I think it’s one of the most important questions you can ask yourself every year (if not every week) of your educational career. It’s the driving force and foundation for your motivation as an educator. My response to the inquisitive student was probably somewhat boring, but at the same time, very sincere. I said, “Because I owe it to my favorite teacher (Dr. Saunders) to give YOU the best that I have EVERY day. I believe anything less than my very best in the classroom would dishonor her.” I don’t know if my student fully understood the depth of my response, but as a fellow educator, I know you do. Almost all of us in higher ed owe a debt of gratitude to at least one professor who made a difference in our lives.

Dr. Saunders, a white woman from Mississippi, went out of her way to help the only African American boy in her class believe he could make a difference even when everyone in the class thought he WAS different.

So, my question to you is, “How much do YOU owe your favorite teacher?” Well, if your favorite teacher was anything like mine, I’m sure that teacher would say, “Just pay your students what you think you owe me.” The truth is, we all owe something to someone. So let’s start paying it forward, instead of making our students pay for our mistakes.

Remember, we owe it to our favorite teacher, and we owe it to our students. So lead, educate, and motivate with passion, and make sure you practice what you teach.