The best writing professor I ever had was extremely demanding. I loved him. I wrote a poem that required an observation, and what seemed like a hundred drafts. But in the end, I wrote a poem that was in part, literally worthy of his praise.
I had sat outside my daughter's ballet class and watched. Watched intently. Made mental pictures in my mind. Engraved them in my mind, so much that I remember the moment. My intense observation helped me to write a line that went something like this: legs lift like slow steam rising.
I liked the line.
In a one-on-one conference with the professor, he thanked me for allowing him to see in a new way.
That one line of poetry could be so appreciated, that it could allow a poet to see in a new way was...
The thought has never left me.
When we allow other people to teach us, even look forward to what we will learn in every encounter, when I believe that everyone I meet can enlighten my life, every meeting becomes meaningful. Every person becomes more important.
One of the greatest gifts I can give to a student is when I appreciate his or her thoughts that help me think in a different way. When they offer a different point of view or the ability to see an idea, a problem, a scenario in a new light. When they open a different window with a different view. When they take my hand, spin me around and show me another path.
When they do, I thank them with profuse gratitude and in a public setting. The student beams.
Recently, a student wrote an award winning essay. In the essay, he uses me as an example. He asks me a question and my answer forces him to think of what I have said. In the end, I am only "right" in part. At first, it was hard to be "wrong" in part, but the fleeting pride vanished and I thanked him: "I love being wrong; it means you're thinking."
And that is the greater gift to a teacher.