Mental Health Purpose of Teaching

Reflecting on Belonging

At the beginning of the semester, I wrote about the importance of belonging, and here at the end of the semester, I encourage us to consider belonging once again.

In my first teaching job (teaching high school immediately after I graduated from college), a senior colleague asked me to do a simple experiment. A week into the school year, she asked me to write down the names of every student in every class.

In the seven sections of English I was teaching, I realized I missed a few students in each class. My colleague asked me a pointed question: Why those students?

That simple exercise was a simple reminder that it can be difficult to give every student the care and attention they deserve. If I couldn’t even remember a child’s name, how could I educate them?

Now at the end of the semester, I think we might benefit from doing a similar exercise. In addition to naming every student in our class, can we think about a moment over the course of the semester when each student really shined? And if we can do this for some students, why not for all our students?

I offer this not in a spirit of judgment but as an invitation to continue to grow as educators who make sure that every student feels welcome in our class and is invited to do excellent work.

Related to student belonging, reflect on this summary of a recent study:

University faculty members train future researchers and produce new knowledge. We show that US faculty members have a parent with a PhD roughly 25 times more often than the general population, with nearly double that rate at prestigious universities. The overrepresentation of socioeconomic privilege is likely to shape scholarship and diversity efforts.

What this summary suggests to me is that there is much work ahead to make sure each faculty member feels belonging–especially if they did not come from a place of socioeconomic privilege–so that they might extend that same sense of belonging to every student they educate, advise, and mentor.