Most instructors have likely experienced this. You get your mail in the department and you have a card from a former student that essentially says the following: I took your class a number of years ago and wanted to say thank you. I thought you were crazy, but now that I’ve been working I find that I think of you and the class fondly. I am sorry for being a jerk. Your class was important. Thank you. I appreciate the thanks, and I also appreciate the apologies for sarcasm or making the class discussion more difficult. These notes are quite meaningful.
Approximately ten times per year, I get emails, cards or Facebook messages like the above from my former students. Funny enough the cards are from an array of students and it is sloppy to say it is from the haters. The cards come from former students who are being honest. Some might think that they were difficult, but I find that their memory and my memory vary. I can think of two very difficult groups over the years, and I have heard from one person out of that group, and the apology appeared honest at first. I say that, as that former student appeared lots in my social media being rather antagonistic. I wish I could say that the above is pure hyperbole. It is not.
Lately, this has happened more than most years. I think it’s the fact that the numbers of students that I have taught has increased or maybe it is the fact that I just finished my tenth year at the fourth university. They know how to contact me via snail mail, email or social media.
My point here is I have found that the students who send these notes surprise me. I am happily surprised that they contacted me. I am happily surprised with the thanks, and reminded about the privilege that I have working with them in the classroom. But, each card notes that I was approachable, enthusiastic or that my playing devil’s advocate made a difference. My students are not jerks. They are diligent, hard-working, exhausted, balancing lots, and do what they can. They are imperfect. And, so am I.