I regularly meet with students during office hours as part of my job. Students come to talk about an essay, a speech, or a grade that they received, but by the time they leave, we've often also talked about their home life, a relationship, or some other aspect of their life unrelated to class.
When I first started this job nine years ago, I only thought of these scenarios from my side of the desk. I wondered how my students were perceiving me; I worried whether I seemed polished and pulled-together and knowledgeable.
As I've matured, I've consciously worked to switch this mentality and instead focus on them: What do these students most need from me at this moment? Direction? Someone to listen? A challenge to step it up? Words of encouragement?
It's flipped how I teach. Daresay, it's flipped how I think and interact with others in most situations.
Of course, I still wonder how I'm perceived at times. I still want to be liked. I'm still affected by criticism. I'm not immune to any of these things. Because of this, I remind myself that my students, like every other human, feel the exact same way.
When I was a nineteen-year-old sophomore taking a 400-level rhetoric course, I once met with my professor after class. I certainly don't recall every text we read that semester, and I can't remember the bulk of what we discussed during that exchange. But I vividly remember one specific detail: that afternoon, beneath the towering oaks outside of Sackett Building, she told me that I was smart.
She pinpointed what I needed to hear at that moment, and I've never forgotten it.
I hope that I can do the same.