As a government major, I waited until the absolute last minute to add 19th century political philosophy to my course load. Nothing about the thoughts of dead beardy males appealed to me.
I headed into my first day of class with dread. The professor of the course didn’t help me feel any more assured. He “didn’t care if we were in the hospital dying. A paper that was due at midnight was due at midnight. If we were going to be late to class “don’t even bother coming…ever again.” In the middle of his egocentric tirade, a classmate’s cell phone rang. The professor answered it. He proceeded to say something snarky to the caller and slammed the phone on the desk. “And no cell phones!,” he screamed
The date of that class was September 11, 2001. The caller was our classmate’s daughter who worked near the towers and was fleeing the city.
The next time the class met, the professor, who had subsequently learned about the circumstances behind the call, was a different man. It wasn’t that he changed his strict rules. It’s just that they were no longer the focus and the defining characteristic of his course or who he was.
I always think of this first day as I head into a new school year. It is a reminder to call upon empathy as my first emotion and that it’s impossible to know the complete story of our students’ lives.