By Kellie Lambert
Associate Program Chair, Communication & Media Studies
At the close of 2021, I feel a shift not only in my life but also in my work. As a professor, the pandemic has changed me profoundly.
Post University is proudly growing, but to me, the numbers are not as important as the people behind them. Post’s motto of making it personal means that embedded in those charts and graphs of growing enrollments are students’ hearts and souls. In the past year, my students — both on main campus and online — have dealt with tremendous stressors in their lives. And sometimes, the learning process must pause to listen to the student who struggles when the books are closed. This fall, I felt that more than ever.
Students often just need an ear. They need someone to listen. A question about their schoolwork turns into the need for words of support. As leaders in our classrooms, we also become cheerleaders for our charges, reminding our students that they are capable and that we can help them along the way. For some campus students, attending class can be something in their lives that remains normal in a not-so-normal time. For online students, focusing on schoolwork can be a distraction from other challenging parts of life. For both main campus and online students, our classes can present opportunities for small victories and a sense of accomplishment.
Teaching in higher education is not only a job, but also a responsibility: We are in a people-driven business, and each student matters. They are more than just a name on a roster; they are full of hope, dreams, and goals. When roadblocks emerge in life and multiply during a worldwide pandemic, the job of teaching basic curriculum can evolve into realizing that sometimes that curriculum is secondary to a grittier task: Acknowledging that success can be measured in more than grades, but perseverance. Our university has a wealth of services to help all students, but often it is our dedicated instructors manning the front lines and becoming advocates for our students’ needs.
Every student’s life is different; some have challenges beyond their control. Some need more advice than others. A professor’s guidance in those times is most important, fostering opportunities for all students in the class to master something beyond a book: Compassion, empathy, kindness, understanding, listening – skills the world needs now and, also, skills employers will value, even if they are not measured in concrete data.
And sometimes helping a student succeed is meeting them where they are at when they are showing a commitment to their education despite their personal odds.
This year, one particular student changed the game for me. I cried a million tears for his personal battles, was in awe of his strength week-after-week, as he sat in front of me, and participated in class, never abandoning his in-person learning despite his struggles. I was mesmerized by his grace in thanking the class for allowing him to have some normalcy in his life by just attending classes. He never gave up, so I never gave up, throughout the final weeks of class, I dedicated time to encourage him to shine through completing his work, and he finished strong. His character, courage, and kind heart taught me lessons; his dedication to my class made me swell with pride. This student was my teacher, and my experience in working with him has forever changed me.
As we close out 2021, I would like to thank the students, especially my student this past fall, who have made me not only a better professor but also a better person. The ones who taught me how caring for them and listening to them made me grow as not only a leader in the classroom but as an individual. Their successes are my successes. My experiences participating in their academic careers are eternally embedded in my work and my life.
And when they graduate, I will be there. And I will be the loudest person cheering in the room.
Kellie Lambert is Associate Program Chair for Communication & Media Studies at Post University. She is also a freelance writer and a columnist for The Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, Conn.