My favorite thing about teaching is when I can tell a student that he or she has done something wonderful.
Three recent opportunities:
*Running into a student (whom I've had in lots of classes, and who's graduating soon) outside the library. I said hi and kept going, but then turned back--to tell her that she's doing terrific work in my seminar and that her writing and thinking have improved tremendously this year. What was even nicer was hearing back from the student, a few weeks later, about how she told her dad that afternoon that she'd had a good day because I'd said that to her. Best two minutes I spent all week.
*Congratulating a student who won first place in the all-College writing competition this year (for a paper that he'd written in my class!). This is a very bright student who's struggled a bit with his writing, and it was so good to see that work pay off.
*Honestly being able to tell the Honors students, when they've finished presenting their senior theses to a big crowd of friends and faculty, that they've done a beautiful job. Because they always do a beautiful job, no matter how rough the road to getting there has been. I'm really going to miss some of these people.
It's so easy to complain, complain, complain. Lord knows I do enough of it. And sometimes students--including the ones I just mentioned!--can drive me nuts. But it's wonderful to notice the good that they do, and to recognize them for it. College can be rough: commas are spliced, papers are late, students struggle with one thing or another. But every year I actually get to see a few of them settle into the mature scholars--and people--that they're capable of being, and it's beautiful.
When I get to tell a student that she's done something magnificent, I feel that I've given her a gift--and the pleasure I see reflected in her, the pride, is an even better gift that she's giving to me.
I'm such a sap. I feel teary just thinking about it.