Lessons Learned: Patience & Empathy

Monday, March 05, 2012

I think it is important to document lessons as we learn them just in case we find ourselves failing at a future date. As I have been moving through my program I have had the opportunity to reflect on my past and have begun to realize lessons I have learned along the way. The following is a post I contributed last week for our class discussion. The thoughts were triggered by readings authored by Mica Pollack and Sonia Nieto.


The readings this week have helped me to realize that I too often distance myself from the situation at hand, meaning I often times do not realize that their situation is mine as well (Pollack, 373). If a student has a bad experience because of me and does not graduate or enroll then that does become my problem, especially if it happens often.

 Before I began my current position I worked for the Admissions Office at the school I was attending. It was there that I realized my love for Higher Education but it was also there that I developed some fairly awful habits. Whenever an interaction with a student became escalated while speaking with one of my colleagues or myself, an IM bulletin would be quickly transmitted throughout the office warning the others. We all knew who the “difficult” students were because we had “typed” them that way. Those students were treated much differently. If you received an escalated student then you knew to walk on eggshells and tread very lightly, which resulted in us trying to get the student out of the office and passed on to the next departments as quickly as possible. Pollack helped me to realize that there is always so much more than meets the eye. If we want students to succeed then we need to understand where they are coming from. We have to try to get a glimpse into their cultural identity and the only way to do that is to maybe not tread quite as lightly but instead to think about how you might feel if you were in their situation. 

Another Example: We have a surprising amount of international students at my somewhat small state school in Utah. A decent chunk of the people I worked with had not had a lot of exposure to different accents and people. When confronted by someone with broken English some of my colleagues became incredibly frustrated and overwhelmed very quickly. As a result the student too became frustrated and often times confused, especially when the next person in line had their situation resolved quickly without much hassle. Like Pollack says, “Achievement patterns are produced in part as educators react to students’ behavior and students react to educators’” (373). Because my colleagues were overwhelmed and frustrated, so too were the students. That’s not a very good start to the experience at a school.

My overall point is that we all need to strive to have a little more empathy and patience. The success of students depends on the possession of those qualities. 

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  1. I'm a white male from the state's dominant religion.

    And even I, at 21, found the higher-ed process so confusing and intimidating that I put off going to school until I was in my 30s. Partly due to finances, but largely due to being overwhelmed by the process.

    I don't believe in catering to people who don't try; but it's important to realize that oftentimes the lack of trying is for lack of understanding.

  2. Amen! Thanks for sharing your story.