For dogs, it’s a biscuit, for cats, a spot in the sun. For people – a martini or a massage at the end of the workday, a bonus or vacation for jobs well done. For teachers, it’s student feedback.
Today, I opened the student evaluations for the Women Artists’ course I taught in the spring. Professors are not permitted to see them until final grades have been filed. The students who take the time to fill them out are often the disgruntled or the inspired. I always skim the statistics (how does this course compare to others in terms of difficulty, workload, and time spent; does the professor respect students and present material clearly) to the comments. My habitually most common negative comment is “quizzes are too hard,” even when I share questions in advance. I felt pleased as I read:
-“Dr. Facos is literally the best, her energy, her flexibility, her jokes…”
-“Professor Facos is passionate about the subjects she teaches and you can see that through her lectures!”
-“I loved her personality, and how she taught the class.”
-“The professor was so nice, interesting, and upbeat. I always felt so much better after class and was inspired by the professor and the women artists we learned about.”
-“The instructor was amazing and you could tell she really enjoyed her job and had a passion for her work.”
I doubt students have any idea how gratifying such comments are. It is such acknowledgements of effort well spent – heads nodding in assent during class, smiles at the professor’s silly jokes and caustic remarks, engaging questions – that are the true compensation for a job that often appears more joyful and carefree than it actually is. It affirms that I and my performances (that’s what they are, after all) have communicated with my audience as intended, that I have contributed to their intellectual growth and sense of well-being.
The greatest reward for me though, is students who remain in contact, allowing you to witness their journeys, or who reach out after many years to acknowledge the impact you’ve had on their lives and to share their accomplishments and frustrations. They remind that for most of us, our most important legacy is intellectual and spiritual, not material.