Friday, February 22, 2013

My Jean Valjean Moment

We had a guest lecturer in one of my classes today: an adjunct professor who mostly teaches and researches in a neighboring state. When she first came in, an older woman with a cord for her glasses and carefully puffed and curled hair, I didn't think I would be terribly interested in her lecture, but I was really wrong. However, the best surprise came at the end.

I can't do this woman's research justice, so I'll try to just avoid describing it. Someone's already yelled at me on facebook because I tried to sum up this professor's research into a single status update. But the developmental theories and applications behind her work were fascinating to me. It was a problem I hadn't considered before, and I admired her clinical work in teaching Theory of Mind and representative play to deaf and hearing-impaired children. My husband called me while the class was packing up, and as I shared my excitement with him, he encouraged me to talk to the professor and network with her about her specialty.

We chatted briefly about if there were any local researchers in her area of expertise, and she asked a little about where I was in the program. I told her that I'm graduating from my undergrad this semester, and that I don't know if I'm interested in continuing to a master's degree. She asked why, and I just said it was kind of hard in this particular program with so much of it being lecture-based (massive simplification of months of frustration). This was my "Valjean moment," which I identified as such in retrospect. She was extremely sympathetic (not in a I-pity-you way) and suggested that I try to get a job as a speech tech or assistant. She shared a story about one of her students who was in a similar boat: she didn't want to go on in the field because she didn't have very good grades. However, this professor asked her to work as an assistant in some research at the time, and when the student got hands-on experience, she just bloomed and loved her work, and then continued on to do well in a graduate program. She, the professor, encouraged me to give it a try, and if I'm interested in the field, to not give up.

I was floored as I thought about it. I was encouraged by her genuine care and interest in me--a student who she only met for five minutes, who knew nothing about. My professors probably couldn't care less if I don't go to grad school, and might even prefer if I don't! But this woman reached out to me from her heart, not from her profession, and encouraged me to keep trying and not give up. I don't know why she wants me to keep going. But her simple faith in me and the easy practicality of her advice to work as an assistant make me want to keep going and give it another shot. I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around what just happened in my heart. She gave me hope, and I don't even know her name. I think I'll try to see if there's a place for me in speech pathology, or in children's language development. So thank you, professor-who-I'll-probably-never-see-again. Thank you.

[The Jean Valjean connection I felt is when the priest gives Valjean the benefit of doubt and through his kindness, offers him a new chance at life, and Valjean is touched by the simplicity of the priest's love and trust.]

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