I watched this team grow up, so to speak. I was there when RIT decided to develop an upper division hockey team--some of whom, ended up being repeat students in my classes throughout the years. Last year, the "boys" took the state championship. I went to watch them play every weekend, with revolving signs for all the fifteen individuals I knew on the team--I'd dance and sing, cheering them on while siumultaneously making a total fool of myself. And I'm not really a "sports fan" perse, I'm just a fan of the students playing the game. I went to many games/events throughout the years, not just hockey. Rugby, basketball, track meets, step-dancing, plays, readings, cheerleading, graduations--you name it, and I was there. If a student asked me to attend an event of theirs, I was honored, humbled to have even been asked. And yes, it did get to a point where I was literally attending something, usually several somethings, every week for the majority of the academic year. And even in the summers, those students who stayed for a co-op or job would keep in touch and end up coming to share a dinner with my family or just stop by for summer "office hours." Even now, though I haven't technically taught in over a year, I'm still in touch with students--actively, I'd say about 500 or so a week. Over the course of year, I'll hear from about 2,500 or so. If I didn't have a child, I'd say that teaching was the best thing I ever did. And I wasn't just good at supporting students outside of the classroom, I was excellent at teaching the written word.
At RIT, there was no English major; English classes were considered "service" classes--meaning "required" courses necessary to completing a general education core required by all colleges and universities in order to maintain accreditation for their institutions. Add in the fact that about 60% of the students were in the technology and science fields, and you have a recipe for English-class disaster! But not in my class--in my class, everyone was a superhero. In my class, everyone was Edward, Jacob, Bella, or whoever they wanted to be--in other words, I made it my business to get to know each student individually. In my classroom, you were an instant celebrity. And do you know what happens when you actually make genuine efforts to get to know people, to connect with them? They become motivated--not just to listen to me drone on about logical fallacy or MLA citations--but to do other things as well.
Because I'm still in touch with almost every student I ever taught at RIT, I've been sort of tracking their collective progress as individuals. It's not a quantitative study, more like qualitative. Housel-alums are some of the most successful students academically, but also go on to be some of the most successful PEOPLE in "real" life. It's not just because of my involvement in their lives, of course--these young people have outside motivators that can undoubtedly be traced back to early childhood. But I don't think it hurt anyone to have an iron-clad GUARANTEE that I would be there for them, both in and out of the classroom, for MY lifetime (which will be conceivably shorter than most of theirs, of course...). I called it the "Housel Lifetime Guarantee." And today, there are upwards of 3,000 Housel-alums wandering the globe who know, without question, I will ALWAYS be on their side. Most students use the Guarantee for things like references, letters of recommendation, proofing/editing of whatever it is they are writing--but some have needed a little something more: Maybe a ride to the hospital before a surgery if home and family was a 20,000-mile plane ride away or someplace to go at Thanksgiving or Christmas if there was no money to get to wherever home was. Sometimes it was as simple as a piece of advice--about careers, graduate school, or just life in general. And again, I was ALWAYS honored to be of service, humbled by any student putting their trust in me--whether to teach them how to write a bullet-proof research essay, or to just be a friendly ear when needed.
As a writer without a classroom anymore, I can't help but feel like I'm missing half of myself. I miss being in the classroom every single day. There is no amount of book sales that can top when you see that struggling student finally make the connection they needed to succeed, or when the quietest of students suddenly finds their voice (and their confidence) during a classroom discussion.
It is my fervent hope to one day be back in the classroom again. I do go to classrooms once in a while to give book talks, but nothing beats TEACHING. It was the air to me, and it's taken me a long time to learn how to breath again without it. I'm still not very adept at filling my lungs without nurturing an eager mind, but I'm working on it. And so, when I see my "hockey-boys"--watch them support one another both on and off the ice--I see how, in just a small way, I helped to positively influence their lives. And, how they positively influenced mine.
That's one of the best parts: No matter how much I gave, I always got back 100 times more...and still do. If you ever get a chance in your lifetime, teach--at least once. It's the most rewarding job you'll ever love.
It's raining where I am today. Next Sunday is Easter; tomorrow night is the beginning of eight-days of Passover. Whatever you're celebrating this spring, remember that it's the connections you make along the way that MAKE your life. It's not the errands to the grocery store; it's not about fitting in that dentist appointment. It's about people. Make people your priority, and you may find that by next spring, you'll be happier, more successful, and be that much closer to PEACE.
Congrats to my "hockey-boys"! Enjoy your successes and look forward to even more--being the "under-dog" sometimes has its advantages....
Until next time, dear readers....